A Review of Larry Smith’s Mingo Town & Memories by Mike James

 

 

A Review of Larry Smith’s

Mingo Town & Memories

By Mike James

 

Larry Smith knows what a penny tastes like. I kept thinking that while reading his fine new collection of poems, not because he says that but because his poems are so concerned with the absence of money.

Neither Eugene Debs nor Sherwood Anderson are mentioned in any poem, but any reader might notice them at the book’s periphery. Like Debs, Smith is concerned with the underclass and with how class can go a long way towards shaping destiny. And, like Debs, he has an almost mystical faith in the goodness of collective humanity.  Like Anderson, Smith is focused on day-to-day, small town, Ohio life. Also, just like Anderson, Smith is concerned with language spoken in diners and factories. There’s nothing ornamental in these poems. They are as sturdy and as practical as Amish furniture. His characters don’t always do right, but they seem to always recognize when they’ve done wrong.

Smith is an Ohio writer who has been publishing widely since the 1970’s. His books include poetry, novels, translations, biography, and non-fiction.  For his many readers, this new collection will arrive like an old friend. The things he’s always done well he continues to shine with.

Here’s a sample to illustrate what Smith is really good at, from his poem, “Wages.”

 

When I break a plate, Mom cries,
“Oh shit. Look what you’ve done.”
You can hear the sound of wind.
Then Mom hands Dad a fist full of bills,
and we kids go off to our rooms.
Tomorrow will mean our old clothes again
and the counting of our coins. 

 

Now poetry is about structuring language as much as it is about anything. Look at what Smith does with the endings of those lines. Only one word (again) is more than one syllable. Smith not only sticks to the vernacular here, but he also uses monosyllables to emphasize harshness and what it’s like to just get by. At the same time he allows the lines to play upon one another with off rhymes of wind/again and rooms/coins. This is an artful way to not draw attention away from the scene. Smith does a fine job of saying just enough in his poems.

These poems are often about the moments of just enough. Smith’s characters do a lot of waiting. Factory workers wait around to see if they will stay employed. Boys wait along the river. Old couples wait to talk. They are ordinary people killing time. Now and then a couple of his characters get together and are like, “two boats mooring along the shore.”

 

Mingo Town & Memories by Larry Smith
Bird Dog Publishing, 2020
Poetry, $15

 

 

About the Authors:

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.

Larry Smith is the editor-publisher of Bottom Dog Press in Ohio, also the author of 6 books of fiction and 8 books of poems, most recently The Pears: Poems. A retired professor of humanities, he lives and works along the shores of Lake Erie in Huron, Ohio.

 

More Reviews by Mike James:

Mike James reviews “Dead Letter Office: Selected Poems” By Marko Pogacar

Mike James reviews Beautiful Aliens: A Steve Abbott Reader and Have You Seen This Man? The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney

Dolores Mildred Batten: “A Review of WARBLES, by Alex Z. Salinas”

 

Dolores Mildred Batten:

A Review of WARBLES, by Alex Z. Salinas 

 

The making of poetry is a painstaking process. The writer, soul bared in blood on print or papyrus pages, places their words into the cosmos of the book; the universe of the IMMENSE contained in the small, on the off chance that someone might get “it”: both the medium and the message (McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man). That is the impulse behind writing: the Promethean promise of both creation and destruction (“Mountain smoke”, 12)—in words, at once both solemn and unapologetic, that rip through your heart strings—what makes you smile, makes you angry. Makes you feel. So, if in this review, you are looking for an explication into the worlds of literary criticism and critical theorem that can be applied to Alex Z. Salinas’s words, you will not find it “hear” (read that again: this point is correctly spelled). What you will find, however, is a reviewer who is in awe, a fellow human who is in yearning, and a fellow writer who is taken aback, absorbed in Alex’s warbling work into the crevices that people do not usually dig, because “we all seek warmth / in old footsteps” (“Needles”, 19; 7:18-19); a promise buried under the rocks that people seldomly overturn.

This is the journey that author Alex Z. Salinas’ poetry collection, WARBLES, takes you on, like a Kerouac-esque trail of tears and tears (pronounced tares). It is a disjointed look inside the soul of the tortured and talented poet, and it is one that deserves our attention.

And that’s the real feat. As the poetry editor of the San Antonio Review, Alex’s job is to read, reject, and revise several authors’ words. I, too, as the essay editor of Plath Profiles, the only journal in the world specifically dedicated to the poetry and prose of Sylvia Plath, know this position well. But in that respect, I have always been of the school of thought that it is not for the editor of an academic journal, webzine, or a newspaper, for that matter, to judge another’s writing, but for the writer of the work to write, and re-write, and then write some more, or as Alex would say, “Do it. Do it every day. Every hour. Every half-hour. Every second, in your head” (“21 tips to better writing”, 55; 1: 1-2). Though you may not be taken with every poem from the writ of Alex’s hand, that is simply because, that one there—it was not meant for you. Soaking the salt of our wounds (“Salt”, 9), seeing sports as more authentic than religion (“TV religion”, 21-22), even speaking to specters in “Apparition” (14), you, the reader, are invited to eavesdrop in on his special world; take what you want, and leave the rest. Thus, Alex Z. Salinas makes a name for himself as a seasoned writer and a newcomer to the compilation poetry book scene, by breaking the boundaries of what poetry “looks like” and forcing us to confront the “warbles” which lie and lie within ourselves. Continue reading “Dolores Mildred Batten: “A Review of WARBLES, by Alex Z. Salinas””

“Acetylene Sunsets: Edward Dorn’s Recollections of Gran Apacheria” By John Macker

 

Acetylene Sunsets:

Edward Dorn’s Recollections of Gran Apacheria

By John Macker

“In the internal resistance of his thought, Dorn has been able to understand the American Indian more deeply perhaps than any recent writer, scholarly or poetic, who is not himself an Indian. In these works, as in the larger body of his writing, Dorn makes marginal figures, as they resist external authority with an indivisible spirit of self, land and history, morally central to the inner life of American Culture.”

                                                                                                         – Paul Dresman

 

I dug Ed Dorn because he wd rather
Make you his enemy
Than lie
           – Amiri Baraka

 

I first encountered Ed Dorn at a reading I did with him and Linda Hogan in Denver in the spring of 1983, at Muddy’s Coffee House in the Slightly Off Center Theatre on 15th street. I was a young, green poet and it was my first major reading with a theatre full of people, most of whom I didn’t know. I remember being anxious, pacing as I read, almost stalking the words as they came from my mouth. In contrast, Dorn was seated for his reading and read from Hello, La Jolla, or, possibly, Yellow Lola, late 1970’s works that, in contrast to the wild-crafted, rhythmic surrealism of his Gunslinger series of books, seemed arrestingly aphoristic. I knew of Ed Dorn — he was teaching at the University of Colorado — but it would be some years before I began reading all of his works and concluding, along with many others, that his was a distinctive, uncompromising and wildly original American voice and, as his friend the late Amiri Baraka described him, “Thin straight blonde Cowboy/movie looking white guy with the mind/of a saw.”

    Fact is, I didn’t appreciate him as much in those days. And that was as much due to my immaturity and insecurity as it was my inability to recognize great writing character when I was in the same room with it. He was particularly generous to my wife and I and after the reading we spent some time together talking about Denver — he was interested in it as a collection of characters in a landscape, its roots as well as its contemporaneous presence as a major metropolis. He was intrigued by its straight, cosmopolitan, newly corporate cow town development vibe verses the academic/counter-culture exoticism of post-hippie mountain town Boulder. At that time, Naropa Institute was sucking much of the literary air out of the room. Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman had conceived the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics there, and Trungpa Rimpoche’s hijinks were becoming legend. (I attended the summer poetics program in 1978, so, guilty.)

    After a brief summer teaching stint there in 1977, Dorn evidently wanted no further part of it. In fact, he eschewed the authoritarian implication of all labels and categories: definitions, belonging to a particular school or group of writers. He disdained being classified as Beat, outlaw, academic or avant-garde or belonging to any particular “movement”; as for his primary poetic education with Charles Olson and Robert Creeley at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, as Lisa Jarnot put it, “the formidable constellation of Black Mountain poetics”, it was a transformative experience that would transcend all manner of category or label. In fact, his appearance in Donald Allen’s seminal 1960 anthology of non-academic, avant-garde writing, The New American Poetry, where his work appeared with the greatest poetic minds of his generation, would be as close as he came to belonging to any group. Continue reading ““Acetylene Sunsets: Edward Dorn’s Recollections of Gran Apacheria” By John Macker”

“A Review of John Dorsey’s Your Daughter’s Country” By Chase Dimock

 

Your Daughter’s Country by John Dorsey

Reviewed by Chase Dimock

 

Reading Your Daughter’s Country (Blue Horse Press) is like leafing through an old family photo album. But, instead of your good-natured grandma narrating while tactfully dancing around family secrets and perfuming the pictures of cousins nobody talks about anymore with a folksy “it takes all kinds,” your guide is Uncle John, who tells you everything. Schlitz in hand, he tells you of aunts with “cracked skin” who could “eat $20 worth of burger king”, abusive great-grandfathers, uncles who never left their “mother’s side,” and cousins bathing in a steel drum.

You wonder if it’s appropriate to hear all this, but you can see the fondness, empathy, and pain in Uncle John’s eyes, and you realize this isn’t gossip or the settling of old scores. It’s love for the wear and tear we see in people content with their scars or nursing their bruises, and an almost ethical duty to present people as they are: neither sensationalized nor sanitized.

Dorsey’s first two poems “Poem for Olin Marshall” and “A History of Bite Marks” might best express this style of empathy through truth.

all my grandmother’s cousin ever wanted
was his own pizza & a used lawn tractor
the son of sharecroppers & war heroes
he drove a school bus & raised wild dogs
that bit the hand that fed them

We see Olin’s life as a series of loss: he talks of his dead sister “as if she were a saint,” his wife who passed the same year (“he had never seen a ghost quite as lovely”) and the death of his brother, whose estate he inherited, but simply let sit in a bank, resigned to “gathering his history up like dead leaves.” It’s this understanding of Olin’s melancholia that perhaps explains why in “A History of Bite Marks,” Dorsey does not complain too loudly about washing Olin’s dog Bruno as “he tried to take chunks out of our ankles.” Loving others means being bitten, and finding meaning in the language of bite marks.

When applied to his family, Dorsey’s trademark empathy for the underappreciated tells us more about his own identity. In “Tommy” he remembers a great uncle born with cerebral palsy like himself:

one of the sweetest men
i’ve ever known
he was a large baby
big enough to swallow
whole japanese tourists
in some infant godzilla scenario

Several poems remember his grandfather, who bears the decline of the Rustbelt on his shoulders. In “His Summer Place” he laments his grandfather losing an inherited family property after the failure of his painting business. “We Were Still Brave Then” depicts Dorsey as a child and his naive but charitable reaction to his Grandfather’s unemployment, gifting eight dollars to help the family. In a way, we’re reading the John Dorsey origin story, a look into how he inherited and developed his human insight and empathy as a poet.


The collection’s eponymous poem “Your Daughter’s Country” is Dorsey at his most revealing and unsettling, tracing the lineage of generational trauma. It begins with a fairly standard description of his great-grandfather’s depression era farm life, but then suddenly he exposes what the family long repressed:

the family history gets a little fuzzy

it wasn’t until i was in my 20’s
that i found out he had also been
an alcoholic
a railroad man
& a rapist

something my own father never knew

The rest of the poem delves into the tragic, abused life of his grandmother, for whom “there was never anywhere for her to go that was far enough away from where she’d been.” This is Dorsey’s greatest twist. He populates the book with several endearing, or at least sympathetic portraits of family, until you come to the poem that bears the book’s name, and he rips apart our expectations, like the way his great-grandfather’s abuse likely tore through generations of family.

While the poems about his literal family stand out, for John Dorsey, the familial extends beyond blood kin. Throughout his career, Dorsey’s work has been known for his portraits of people often overlooked or misunderstood. Whether it’s an old friend or a weathered stranger’s face at a rural Missouri diner, he has the ability to pull something from deep inside a person that feels as if it came from the memories of a cousin you spent all your summers swimming with.

In “Poem for Mary Anthony” Dorsey portrays a trucker who knows “you won’t find god in the stacks of books we have piled high in the bookstore in town.” In another poem, he mentions a friend’s brief recollection of a man who placed second in an episode of Star Search, but

just like in life
nobody ever remembers
the runner up.

instead they ask you
for your last cigarette

I’d argue that Dorsey’s poetry is all about remembering the runner up, as well as the last place finishers, those who didn’t get an audition, and all those who never got to dream of an opportunity.

 

Your Daughter’s Country is available from Blue Horse Press.

 

About the Author: Chase Dimock is the Managing Editor of As It Ought To Be Magazine. He holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Illinois and his scholarship has appeared in College LiteratureWestern American Literature, and numerous edited anthologies. His works of literary criticism have appeared in Mayday MagazineThe Lambda Literary ReviewModern American Poetry, and Dissertation Reviews. His poetry has appeared in Waccamaw, Hot Metal Bridge, Saw Palm, San Pedro River Review, and Trailer Park Quarterly. For more of his work, check out ChaseDimock.com.

 

More by Chase Dimock: 

Letting the Meat Rest: A Conversation With Poet John Dorsey 

Leadwood: A Conversation With Poet Daniel Crocker

First-Hand Accounts From Made-Up Places: An Interview With Poet Mike James