Mike James: “Saint Jayne Mansfield”

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About the Author: Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. He has published in numerous magazines throughout the country in such places as Plainsongs, Gargoyle, Birmingham Poetry Review, and Chiron Review. His fifteen poetry collections include: Journeyman’s Suitcase (Luchador), Parades (Alien Buddha), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), First-Hand Accounts from Made-Up Places (Stubborn Mule), Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle), and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He served as an associate editor of The Kentucky Review and currently serves as an associate editor of Unbroken.

 

More By Mike James:

Grace

Paul Lynde

Oh Daddy, Give Me A Quarter For The Time Machine

 

Image Credit: Digital Photo Art of a public domain photo of Jayne Mansfield by Chase Dimock

“Early Exits: New Books from Two Poets Lost to AIDS” By Mike James

 

Early Exits: New Books from Two Poets Lost to AIDS

By Mike James

 

 

Beautiful Aliens: A Steve Abbott Reader
Edited by Jamie Townsend
Nightboat Books, 2019
$19.95

Have You Seen This Man? The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney
Edited by Jim Cory
Sibling Rivalry Press, 2019 
$18.00

 

One of the reasons Steve Abbott is so refreshing is because he takes his lusts the same way he might drink orange juice: straight up. There are poems and essays about queerness and AIDS (his ultimate killer), but also ones about transcendence, poverty, and fatherhood. This collection pulls together essays (including a stunning piece on Bob Kaufman), fiction, poetry, cartoons, letters, and memoirs across a wide range of styles. His work reads like a mind never at rest.  

Abbott was part of the generation of queer poets who came of age in the 1970’s. This generation, which included Tim Dlugos, Kevin Killian, Steve Carey, and Jim Brodey, did not hide their sexuality even if some did not make it the center of their work. (A freedom taken for granted by heterosexual poets.) Prior to the 1970’s, most queer poets who took sex as a subject were either outliers (Harold Norse and John Weiners) or artfully oblique (Hart Crane and W.H. Auden.) 

Abbott’s work has a freedom and casualness not found in many poets prior to his generation. He’s able to toss off lines like, “The sky is so full / you hear footsteps on the roof” or drop in a line like, “So far as I know / Chairman Mao never wore a dress.”  It’s his knack for not taking the world too seriously which makes Abbott such an endearing writer. His work is casual, but never sloppy. He’s always precise. Check out how he starts this poem. 

It’s A Strange Day Alysia Says, A Green

“It’s a strange day,” Alysia says, “a green
bug in my room & now this mushroom growing in the car.”

She’s right. Under damp newspapers & cigarette
butts, from the floor, protrudes a slimy brown thing. 

Maybe I should get a new car or at least
clean it up, fix the window like the kids say. 

But how can I do this & still talk to angels?

Poets get absorbed in strange quests,
question not the creative regimen of poverty. 

I wanted to meditate on this but before I could
a hitchhiker we pick up crushes…

The poem continues in side-chat fashion, but this gives an idea of his voice. Tucked between the cigarettes, the ampersands, and the hitchhiker, this poem belongs to the 1970’s as surely as shag carpet, disco balls, and Pontiac Firebirds. And just like those well-remembered items, it’s tactile and timeless. The poet records a conversation between his self and soul about parenting, poverty, and poetry and lets the reader eavesdrop along the way.  

Because of Alysia Abbott’s fine and tender memoir, Fairyland, Steve Abbott is better known as a subject than as a writer. Beautiful Aliens should start to correct that oversight. 

Despite some obvious similarities (queer and San Francisco based) Karl Tierney was a different sort of poet than Steve Abbott. The new collection, Have You Seen This Man? illustrates that point. 

First, it must be noted, this collection was a love labor from Jim Cory, Tierney’s friend and literary executor. Tierney committed suicide in 1995 after an AIDS diagnosis. Cory spent the next 20 plus years submitting Tierney’s poetry to magazines and trying to gain interest from publishers for a collection. Cory, a wonderful and heart wrenching poet in his own right, kept the focus on Tierney rather than himself. This collection is a testament to Tierney’s talent as a poet and to Cory’s skill as an editor. Cory’s insightful introduction is worth the price of the book. 

But poets have to be judged by the quality of their work, not by the sadness of their lives. So, what kind of poet was Tierney? In a word: lustful. As Cory correctly notes, Tierney seems to channel the Roman poet Catullus in both his direct, almost comedic, style as well as in his subject matter. Like Catullus, Tierney writes like a man on a mission. The mission is getting either a or b or both into bed and the best poems (there are numerous gems) concern fleshly wants or their aftermaths. 

Here’s are a few lines from a typical piece to shows what he does well. 

Part-Time Whores In Doorways

Some of them are handsome, 
even if two sheets to the wind 

shaking skin and bones. 
Little meat upon them 

except between the legs 
meticulously exposed when rising

towards tweaks, Johns, or numbers. 
There is no need for pity. 

They milk even the bosom of Mary 
and display…

The poems continues and catalogs Tierney’s world of wants, fulfilled and unfulfilled. His characters go to every party and hate to go home alone. Tierney’s characters, are like so many party hungry, lonely people. As a poet though, he is unique. His poems are postcards of fanciful directness, finally delivered after so many years.

 

About the Author: Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. He has been published in numerous magazines throughout the country in such places as Plainsongs, Laurel Poetry Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, and Tar River Poetry. His fourteen poetry collections include: Parades (Alien Buddha), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), First-Hand Accounts from Made-Up Places (Stubborn Mule), Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle), and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He has served as an associate editor of The Kentucky Review and as publisher of the now defunct Yellow Pepper Press. More information about him can be found on his website, mikejamespoetry.com.

 

More By Mike James:

Grace

Paul Lynde

Two Prose Poems

 

Image Credit: World AIDS Day Ribbon. Public Domain

Two Prose Poems by Mike James

 

 

Things I Hate

Things I hate mainly start with u. Things like newly upholstered umbrellas taking umbrage at the rain for doing what it does. Any ordinary person or day declaring herself unique. Special and different are matter-of-fact fine, but unique seems untucked from what is.

Of course, I make exceptions. I’m fine with whatever is ungainly. Even prefer it. And I have nothing against unicorns of saddled or unsaddled variety. If I were Ezra Pound, I would complain about usury. But I’m not. So I don’t. Borrowings don’t make me think of interest. Instead I think of theft. What starts as a favor, ends as a complaint. Such things don’t happen in utopias, but only princes live there. The plain world gets upturned more than twice a day. At any moment the sky might crack open with a new birth of tears.

 

 

Tribulations Down the Street From the Quickie Mart

So, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride into town and what are you doing, Mr. Sunshine, except licking a vanilla ice-cream cone and digging through your neighbor’s trash? Yesterday you were talking about all the things you wanted to do in the Falklands once winter vacation arrived. You planned to watch penguins and begin each day rousing your companion by singing God Save the Queen in the key of Sid Vicious. Now, all that will have to be postponed. And all the Horsemen have noisy and glittery spurs. It would be foolish to think they wouldn’t. And why is one playing a harmonica? And why does another have your name tattooed, with John Hancock style flourish, right above his heart? Each is busy doing what they came to do. And each is pretty good at it. Despite it all, that ice-cream is still delicious.

 

 

About the Author: Mike James has been widely published in magazines, large and small, throughout the country. His thirteen poetry collections include: Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), First-Hand Accounts from Made-Up Places (Stubborn Mule), Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle), and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He has served as an associate editor for the Kentucky Review and Autumn House Press, as well as the publisher of the now defunct Yellow Pepper Press. He makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. More information can be found on his website at mikejamespoetry.com.

 

More By Mike James:

Grace

Paul Lynde

 

Image Credit:Heart of the Turbine” Lewis W. Hine (1930) Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

 

Two Prose Poems By Mike James

 

Moving Again

Not everything fits on the back of my motorcycle. For instance, neither my pet cactus nor my roommate cat travel well. Both claw me considerably in different ways. And my bike is not large. It’s the small engine type I never grew out of.

Thomas De Quincey knew it was time to move when no more books would fit on shelves and when bill collectors came more often than meals. I know it’s time when someone tells me. My jokes worn thinner than the cheapest tissue paper, which won’t absorb more than a shot glass of tears.

 

Gutter Angels

Identify not by wings, which mostly stay jacket-hidden, but by sadness which serves as eyeliner. Also, by any buffalo penny worn as a pendant. If wings are seen, feathers are frequently oily. Often a few lost on alley bets and during sidewalk waltzes. Be warned: when they crack their knuckles dreams escape. Mice can hear it. And dogs who so often come and happily lick their hands.

 

About the Author: Mike James is the author of eleven poetry collections. His most recent books include: First-Hand Accounts From Made-Up Places (Stubborn Mule Press) Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle), and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He has previously served as associate editor for both The Kentucky Review and Autumn House Press. After years spent in South Carolina, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, he now makes his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his large family and a large assortment of cats.

 

More By Mike James

“Grace”

“Two Ghazals”

“Two Prose Poems”

 

Image Credit: “Barrel Cactus” C.R. Savage. (1870s) Digital Image Courtesy of the Getty Digital Collection

“Grace” By Mike James

 

Grace

Before she chose her one new name, she trembled through a dozen baby books. Walked through library stacks and touched every Anna and Sylvia, all the Marianne’s, Eileen’s, and Audre’s. Said each in a slow whisper, elongating vowels into a wish. Now and then, imagined saying the name with a confident rasp. What she wanted was not a mark of winter, but spring’s first color and the alchemy of change.

Finally, the choice stood out as much as her dark over-tall frame, as much as her cliff-sharp cheek bones. Jacob, her former self, became a passenger on a bus headed to an endless west.

The directions were in the small compass of her hands.

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About the Author:  Mike James is the author of eleven poetry collections. His most recent books include: Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle)and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He has previously served as associate editor for both The Kentucky Review and Autumn House Press. After years spent in South Carolina, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, he now makes his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his large family and a large assortment of cats.

 

Image Credit: “Blue and Green Music” By Georgia O’Keeffe (1921)

“Paul Lynde” By Mike James

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Paul Lynde

Died on an early January Sunday in Beverly Hills. If he’d been born in early January, he’d be a Capricorn. He was a Gemini. During the 1970’s it was popular to tell people “your sign.” Like shag carpet, that’s less popular now. Paul trusted astrology. Call him a man of the times. Call him Liberace without a piano, add a scarf. Geminis love illusions and music. Prefer light blue and yellow. The great talents of Geminis “are in the social realm.” Does that include cooking? Paul Lynde liked to drink white wine while cooking. He loved to cook.

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About the Author: Mike James has been widely published in magazines, large and small, throughout the country. His thirteen poetry collections include: Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), First-Hand Accounts from Made-Up Places (Stubborn Mule), Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle)and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He has served as an associate editor for the Kentucky Review and Autumn House Press, as well as the publisher of the now defunct Yellow Pepper Press. He makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee.More information can be found on his website at mikejamespoetry.com.

 

More By Mike James:

Grace

Two Ghazals