Thursday, June 12, 2014

Israel Horovitz: Heaven and other Poems.

Israel Horovitz


 Heaven and other Poems. Israel Horovitz. (http://www.threeroompress) $15.95

             Review by Doug Holder

 Recently I received an advanced copy of Israel Horovitz's collection of poetry Heaven and other Poems. I know of Horovitz from his plays such as: The Indian Wants the Bronx, The Widow's Blind Date, as well as his screenplays. And this past summer when I spent time at the Rocky Neck Artist Colony in Gloucester, Mass. I passed by the Gloucester Stage Company that he co-founded years ago. But I never thought of him as a poet. But after reading his new collection, there is no doubt that he is. I have read the collected poems of Tennessee Williams, but those seemed to be sketches for his plays--character studies that were out of context. In this collection Horovitz gives a powerful bone to marrow account of his life as a man and world class artist. He encompasses so much: the brooding poet, a walker in the city, another member of another lost generation in Paris, the wanderlust of a wandering Jew, the older lover, and the man in his 70s with the specter of death over his shoulder.

It is said in poetry circles that every word counts. And it seems that Horovitz practices what this statement preaches. Many of his poems are on the short side with the exception of  "Stations of the Cross," a wonderful narrative poem about the fun-loving and erotically charged relationship between a brother and sister. When the sister dies, the brother, in memory of her iconoclastic sensibility sprinkles her ashes in such unlikely places as: a sailor on the River Trent, in a bald man's bowler hat, etc... But what makes this book special is the way Horovitz in a few lines and with the accuracy of a proton beam--hits the core. Have if you will " For Loleth, Two Days Too Late,"

  When every love we've loved has died

  And we've long wept our last

  The Seine will sob a single tear

   And overflow its past.

"This poem made me cut myself when I was shaving"--I paraphrase from the old master   Auden, who told his readers what happened when he reads a great poem.  Our losses, what means so much to us, the unexpected death, will not stop the dog from lifting his leg on our pedestrian street. Horovitz lays it out so well here--with the sob of the Seine--the poem reminds me of Whitman's rivers, carrying the past, and present in its flowing waters.

  Camus wrote, and I paraphrase: " At a certain age we are responsible for our own face."

Universality, is a necessary attribute of any fine poem, and haven't we all looked at our face in the mirror at say 50, 60, 70, and beyond and asked ourselves: "Does this sorry physiognomy do me justice?" We look at our face that carries its weight on the geography of our brows, our cheeks, and the folds of our necks. The poem: "Is This the Face I Deserve" says it all:

   Is this the face I deserve?

   After caring for parents

   After marching in Newark

   On poverty and oppression;

   Consider the countless letters

   I have sent to congressmen;

   Not to mention scores of women

   I have treated decently!

 And the playwright in Horovitz is evident in his work exhibited by how he captures a scene, the realistic dialogue, and makes an ordinary place, a place of significance. In the poem  "Mangia-Mangia" the poet stops in a cafe in the North End of Boston and looks with a gimlet eye, listens intensely, and feels:

"You've lost a lot of weight!"

 A disembodied voice shouts out to Cook,

 Who counters back with prideful " 42 pounds, 8 weeks!"

 " What's your secret?" begs a

  Podgy Prince Street bag lady.

 "Stress," confesses Cook

 " Stress and endless grief!"

  The new ones enter like comic relief in an early O'Neill,

  Commencing on such complications as

  Cold air in winter, or the puffy price of cigarettes.

  A cop in brilliant orange shakes a postman's hand.

  Both black, they share a colorful word on red long johns and

 Truthlessness of white weathermen.

 Any vague attempt at humor

 Brings a gaggle of giggles, but,

 Not a single word is heard on lonliness,

 Our lives as empty as a wallet..."

 It is funny, my cat MENOW often casually sniffs the new poetry books that scatter my apartment. But with this book he circled it cautiously, sniffed it with unusual curiosity, and placed his discerning paw on the author's face on the front cover. Perhaps this feline has some literary instinct. Just as he is drawn to the endless prey of birds and sad sack  mice, he maybe equally drawn to work of literary merit. I for one would highly recommend this book of poetry from this accomplished playwright and man of letters.                        







Sunday, June 08, 2014

Review of Reckoning by Rusty Barnes

Review of Reckoning by Rusty Barnes

By Ralph Pennel

At every turn, it is easy to forget that Reckoning is author Rusty Barnes’s debut novel. From page one, the book is as emotionally complex and engaging as it is suspenseful and artful. A coming of age tale that takes on all the shape and guise of a more sophisticated literary narrative but for short breaths and gasps, the novel succeeds where many coming of age tales fail their less cautionary, more discerning readers. That is, it exposes the human failings of all its characters, both young and old, with the same unapologetic honesty, and it does so against the critical examination of the novel’s rural Appalachian setting, which serves as a lens into the failings of the broader, restrictive patriarchal culture at large.

In the opening scene of the novel, Richard, the main character, who is fourteen, is shooting at woodchucks from the cab of his employer’s truck. However, because of his poor aim—a recurrent theme explored throughout the book—all he manages to accomplish is to rouse the small Appalachian town from its rural slumber into a conflict each one of its members will not soon forget. In the wake of his poor shooting, Lyle, the man by whom Richard’s own humanity will be tested personally and physically, emerges from the underbrush accompanied by a naked woman, Ms. Neary. Ms. Neary, the mother of Richard’s eventual love interest, Katie, is the first naked woman Richard has ever seen, and he is forever changed, made too aware of his own emerging (albeit controversial) masculine identity.

Even before that, though, Barnes draws the reader into novel’s primary theme immediately in the very first line of the book: “The sun was bad” (7). As all “sons” are. Especially the “sons” of Richard’s hometown, where patriarchy and misogyny are not just the predominant modeling behaviors, they are the only ones. Even those characters, who seem to know intuitively that this type of behavior is wrong, can’t bring themselves to fully disengage from it. It is a commentary on the main character’s doomed future, where he will have to discern between what he is to become and what he has already unwittingly allowed himself to become. And, from that point on, from the very first line, Barnes never once takes his foot off the gas.

Through much of the novel, Richard is berated, admonished and regarded with ambivalence by his father until it is evident to his father that Richard is involved with Ms. Neary’s daughter, Katie. It is at this point that Richard’s father, who “Still in his work clothes, looked like he could handle about anything . . . replacing an engine, putting in a toilet, cutting wood, hunting, driving anything with a motor” (97), treats him as an equal. Richard, at this critical moment in the novel is tired from having stayed up late the night before and from having walked home early in the morning. His father admonishes him proudly, and even remorsefully, stating that, “Chasing women will do that to you” (98). Or, in other words, welcome to manhood, you will feel this way the rest of your life. Richard is now part of “the club.” He now knows, according to his father, that it is the only thing that can save him, that love will save him and all men by making him defenseless to it, by taking away what makes him a “good” man. He is powerless against it, but made more powerful by defending his desire to have it. He has discovered the paradox of “manhood,” that it is a “man’s” prerogative to show that he can defend without fail the one thing that threatens his masculinity.

Ultimately, however, it is in stumbling across the body of Misty, who has been left for dead, lying naked and beaten by the side of the brook, that Richard’s life is steered directly toward his truest test and final confrontation. It is eventually revealed that Misty is in the sex industry and in this way somehow linked to Lyle. Richard befriends Misty, who is taken in by Ms. Neary, and it is through this allegiance that Richard becomes a threat to Lyle. This is because Lyle has no interest in treating women well, especially a woman like Misty who, according to Richard’s father is, “going to end up toothless and five times pregnant before she’s thirty” (100). This is an obvious detriment to Lyle’s character and the defining difference between him and a man like Richard’s father. Though both men resent facing their weaknesses, Richard’s father owns up to his, however rudimentarily, whereas Lyle takes it out on that which reveals his weakness.

It is this same allegiance with Misty and Ms. Neary that, for all intents and purposes, costs Richard his job shooting woodchucks for Old Man Thompson and lands him in a fight with Lyle on Richard’s uncle’s property. In this fight, Lyle breaks Richard’s arm in order to keep him “out of his business” because the two (his business and Misty and Ms. Neary) are, from what Richard can tell, one and the same, and he has become irreversibly emotionally invested in the lives of these women, Katie included, to back out. Even after Lyle threatens Richard at the end of the fight stating, “I’ll kill every fucking friend you have. I’ll start with her mother. Katie. Misty” (107), and it is clear that he means this, Richard cannot un-invest.

Richard’s passion is ultimately put to the test, as he slowly sees that the fight he has taken on personally on behalf of his new friends is far larger than himself, and quite possibly unwinnable:

            It was something he should have known. He was fourteen, and it was only now he         realized what that meant. He had all the things—the size, the brains—that men had, but          there was a certain set, the knowledge of the way Lyle and his father behaved, not to          mention the presence of mind and power of even someone as obviously limited as Karl             Nickson. Karl wasn’t smart or anything like it, but his instincts in telling Richard how      bad it would get, way back at the beginning of it all just a few days ago, seemed like the       slow-powered decision of a king. (229)

Richard decides once and for all that he not only has to make this right by defending the honor of his friends, but he has to get back at Lyle personally for breaking his arm and for humiliating him. And, even though Richard is still just a kid, “he deserved to have the chance to get back at Lyle, to make it better in his head. It wasn’t revenge . . . It was everything he’d been taught in school and by his father and by all the men in the world who truly cared about the kind of person he would become” (206). It is this decision, to take matters into his own hands, that leads him to the final showdown at novel’s end and to deciding whether this is a world he can bear to make himself vulnerable for.

Reckoning is a work of considerable literary merit, and it is unequivocally prescient in its tackling of the subjects of patriarchy and misogyny, which have gained hold of the national consciousness in the wake of current events. Furthermore, whether it is a remarkably vivid description, or the way the dialogue strategically reveals the truest natures of the characters, the novel is very artfully crafted and the language is rich and dense. This in combination with the compelling narrative that pulls the reader through page after page, makes it is easy to wish for the novel to continue in order to lengthen our stay in Barnes’s dysfunctional Appalachian town. But this sense of withholding definitely leaves us desiring for more and eager for this author’s next full-length work.