Richard Carr enjoyed an amazing year for publication in 2008: four poetry books. Two of these books, Honey and Mr. Martini, I’ve already written about here. And now the third book, Street Portraits. This book might be considered as the source of several characters that inhabit the other three books, including Honey, Ace, Mr. Martini. The title is vague for a collection of poems about specific moments and people. From the first two lines (“The quiet boy sits very still on the bench,/one sleeve rolled up — or the other fallen down.”) Carr establishes anticipation and curiosity — what will happen next? Who will we meet next? (Full disclosure: I know Richard Carr. He’s a neighbor.)
The language Carr chooses for his descriptions create startling images that evoked memory of specific moments in my life. For example: “Her thoughts snap and blow like a street map in the wind,” immediately brought a clear image to mind, followed by a memory of a sunny, windy afternoon on the way to Cape Cod and the map snapping in my mother’s face from the wind blowing through her open car window. Some other examples:
- “She is chipped and smudged like the painted brick facade.”
- “…the thick liquid/of daydream.”
- “his feet sinking into the floor like monuments in tall grass.”
In this collection, I noticed a preoccupation with eyes, watched or watching, described also in original ways:
- “His eyes make small movements,/intermittent,/like raindrops striking leaves.”
- “…–just the orbs of the eyes –/gone blurry in the chloroform of halted time.”
- “The Bee in a Boy’s Eye” (a title)
- “her eyes like sleek trains/speeding back and forth across the bay.”
Two poems stayed with me for some time: “Madman” and “Self-Portrait in a Public Toilet.” I thought they were outstanding.
Another poem moved me for its ordinariness: “The Usual.” Who hasn’t seen an old guy at a breakfast counter, whether on the road or some Sunday morning in summer? The poems in this book heightened my awareness of the street and the people I see on it every time I go out. These poems give those people their individuality and humanity. Which is not to say the professional panhandlers no longer annoy me….especially the ones with cell phones.
One Thursday evening not long ago, I stopped reading on the bus to listen and watch a conversation occurring between two men, and I tried to imagine how they might appear in Richard’s “Street Portraits.” One guy held a cane and large cardboard sign that read “Brain trauma, was in coma for 3 weeks,” but his speech was normal and his movements appeared normal. He wore a baseball cap, plaid shirt and jeans with beat-up sneakers. The other guy wore a white T-shirt tucked into khaki pants with a black belt, his apple-shaped body a contrast to his pointed nose, small mouth and eyes. He said, “So you were in a coma? Can you think?” The baseball cap guy replied, “No, not really.”
I wasn’t fooled….