Tag Archives: Poetry

Review: FITZPATRICK by Richard Carr

Self-isolation has turned me into a burrower into my personal library for books to read. I bought Fitzpatrick by Richard Carr in 2018, along with his chapbook Our Blue Earth. I read the chapbook right away and put the poetry collection away for another day. Well, another day arrived last week! I’m glad I let some time pass so that I could read Richard’s poetry again with an uncluttered mind. And this collection proved to be an interesting diversion away from the pandemic.

Fitzpatrick is an artist. He paints. Carr approaches him from 4 different angles: the bartender in his favorite bar, his best drinking buddy, his wife, and his work. It was like going from standing far away to standing nose-to-nose with the man. And while the blurbs on the back cover describe this collection’s aim as “the search being the mystery and nature of art,” I read these poems as being biographical, a search for the artist, and how is an artist defined. In that regard, the bartender is the impersonal public who recognizes the human being but doesn’t really know the artist; the drinking buddy is closer, a guy who shares Fitzpatrick’s sense of the world up to a point; his wife is closer still, but even she does not really know that part of him that imagines and sees his paintings in his mind before he puts them on canvas; and then there’s the work itself, a series of poems describing paintings by an “I.” I wondered about that “I,” as if it were really Fitzpatrick speaking about the work he never talks about with anyone else.

I actually thought the best description of Fitzpatrick came in the 7th poem of the “His Wife” section: He was a pyramid, and in some tiny, deep chamber/a pharaoh folded himself for sleep. The wife recognizes his protective and defensive exterior, its silence, its stone hardness, but also that deep down inside himself he is the king of his life, with all the problems, frustrations, and excesses that means. What is not said explicitly is that pyramids contain lots of corridors and rooms, and could be an analogy for the mind, and the pharaohs inside are entombed.

Carr’s choice of words to paint images is one of his strengths, and its in fine form in this collection. For example, he describes the drinking buddy as “a smudge trying to catch a cab.” That drinking buddy in the next poem describes Fitzpatrick as “a dark snowbank splashed by trucks.” In the previous stanza, Carr writes “He tensed when someone opened the door/and let in a snake of wind.” In poem No. 12 of the drinking buddy section, Carr writes the drinking buddy saying, “His wife staged the opera of his public life.” And with every poem in the drinking buddy section, I felt I was learning just as much about the drinking buddy as Fitzpatrick. This was true for the other two sections about people as well.

Richard Carr

These are unsentimental poems in this collection, Carr “groping in the darkness of his own creation” for not a revelation about the mystery of art, but for what it means to be an artist as seen by people in the artist’s life. The work becomes a reflection of how the artist — or Carr — sees his art, and perhaps sees himself through his art. In the poem “Self-portrait,” he says “I am a harlequin.” A clown, an entertainer, a fool? I know that feeling. In the final poem, “Evening Lights of a Great City,” he states, “I can’t paint what I mean.” This is the frustration of all artists — taking the meaning in the mind/imagination and putting it out in the world so that it is seen and understood, but once it enters the world, it’s not the same. Composers are astonished the first time they hear their music performed because it’s never really like what they’ve heard in their imaginations, and the system of notating music cannot capture completely the sound and meaning.

I thought this was a lovely collection and I enjoyed reading it quite a lot. I especially liked the change of direction that this collection has taken compared with previous collections of Carr’s poetry that I’ve read. Being a writer, I could relate to these poems, the striving to reveal, the frustration, and sometimes the success. I think this collection was an unqualified success, and I’d recommend it to readers who love poetry.

BOOK REVIEW: “Our Blue Earth” by Richard Carr

In December of 2014, I wrote my last review of Richard Carr’s poetry. Earlier this year, I learned that not one but two new collections of poetry by Richard Carr had been published. Both were available at Amazon where I purchased them. The first, Our Blue Earth, I’ll review today. The second, Fitzpatrick, I’ll review at a later date.

The first thing that startled me about Our Blue Earth was the cover: a large black crow regarding me as if daring me not to read the book and what might happen if I didn’t. Crows also appear often in the poems, sometimes as part of the scenery but most often as what I took to be an ominous descriptor of something — a dream, a voice, a place as in “crow territory.”

That night in my old bed/in the old house I dream/of this: A crow/standing on the top of a telephone pole/throws back his head. There is no sound.

The “blue earth” of the title has a double meaning of sorts. The first meaning of the town of Blue Earth in southern Minnesota, or the county of Blue Earth in Minnesota. It is a county of prairie and farms, and farms and farming figure prominently in this collection; and where Richard Carr grew up. But “blue earth” could also be our planet, known as “blue” earth (or blue marble) thanks to NASA photos.

The poems inside focus on Blue Earth, Minnesota, but I read them as being also about planet earth, about humanity in a larger sense. I don’t know if Carr intended that. As a writer, I know that readers bring so much more to a piece of writing collectively than what the author or poet brings alone.

Carr in his dedication calls the poems in this collection “persona” poems. What does that mean? I think it means that the pronoun “I” that he uses in the majority of the poems does not refer to Carr himself, but to a separate narrator “I,” giving distance to what “I” experiences in the poems. I was startled by Carr’s use also of “we” and especially “you” in the poem “Asked to Recall” — the only poem in the collection that pronoun appears as the subject. Carr also steps way back in a couple poems, writing about “the boy.” While these poems are not personal in the sense that they are about Carr, he must draw on his experience growing up on a farm in Blue Earth, his family, and his departure and returns. One way of examining a life is by creating a persona to inhabit that life which is what I think Carr is doing in these poems. As a result, he also pulls the reader  deeper into the poems, giving the “I” to the reader, or addressing the reader as “you” or including the reader in the “we.”

These poems inhabit an unsentimental place where memory can be dark, gritty, and sour. Nature exists and just is rather than being either benevolent or evil. Life goes on no matter what happens. Carr’s images startle, haunt, and provoke — “a wizened politburo of crows,” “a feather of mist passes on the water,” or “night hauls its groggy paunch across the plains.” My favorite poem in this collection is a lovely sonnet, “Serpent Wind.” Carr manages to take something as common as wind and make it into something truly creepy:

A steady west wind slithers in the screen,/pulls through the open window, flex and glide,/a careful snake, a voiceless hiss, unseen/except the sleepy curtains move aside.

Sorrow lives in Blue Earth, as does confusion, resentment, disbelief, and acceptance. I would call this collection probably as close as Carr may come to writing personal poems, i.e. poems about himself and his experience and acknowledging them as such. But if you’d like to explore a different world from your own and feel like it is in fact yours, I highly recommend Richard Carr’s Our Blue Earth.

Reading Poetry

Gregg Bradem: Autumn Way

Gregg Bradem: Autumn Way

“Fiction writers should read poetry for two reasons…First, poets often write epiphanies, and beautifully so. Second, poets choose one image and really rely on it to stain the reader’s mind.”                 — Juliana Baggott in the January 2016 The Writer

I read poetry often.  Not as often as I’d like, however.  Years ago, I would begin my writing day by reading poetry aloud for about fifteen minutes.  It did something to my brain, made it more open and fertile for my fiction.  The poetry signaled my imagination that it was time to play.

It doesn’t matter, either, what poetry you read.  It can be really old or really new.  Rhyming or not.  I’ve learned to be open to everything when it comes to poetry. Yes, I have my favorites, a sampling:

“Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians….”

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,/  And sorry I could not travel both….”

“Dance like a jackrabbit/ in the dunegrass, dance….”

“The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter/ It isn’t just one of your holiday games;”

“At five in the afternoon./ It was exactly five in the afternoon./ A boy brought the white sheet/ at five in the afternoon.”

Eliot's Cats book coverThe poets are (above, in order) Homer, Robert Frost, Grace Paley, T.S. Eliot, and Federico Garcia Lorca. And there are many more, some of which I have yet to discover. Some with powerful narrators, others with a penetrating, haunting atmosphere or story.

I read poetry to take me out of myself as close to instantly as is possible.  Poetry contains insights into existence with the economy of a meaningful look or gesture, a sigh or a moan.  But I especially love to read poetry because of its music — read it out loud! — in the sound of its words and the rhythms of its lines.  Long poems, short poems, free verse or not.  All of it sings.

Poetry primes my mind like an invitation to a party. To write, to create, to dance with the characters that come to visit. The rhythms, seeing the arrangement of the words on the page, hearing the sounds — a really good poet can create an entire world in four stanzas.

Writers encourage other writers to read voraciously, write something every day, to live their lives fully and to be observant.  I would encourage writers to listen to music and read poetry out loud…for much the same reasons.  Leave your daily concerns on the couch, at the office door, or in the kitchen.  When you sit down at your desk to write, bring an open mind ready to play.  I can think of no better primers for that than music and poetry.  For me, especially classical music.

classicalmusic

Each writer needs to find his or her way to open all the mind’s windows and doors to beckon imagination to come out and play.  What do you do?

 

“Grave Reading” by Richard Carr

For the last few nights, I have had at least one dream each night about searching for or chasing or protecting poetry. Ah, the human mind! Clearly, mine was telling me that I needed to “find” poetry.  But where?

I’m not a regular reader of poetry, so my mind fixating on it could mean something else, of course.  But I’ve had one particular poetry book on my mind since receiving my review copy from the poet in late October.  I’d wanted to read it immediately, but life and a new part-time job interfered.  I grabbed quiet time, silence, here and there in which to read the book.  I finally finished this lovely book yesterday.

Grave Reading book cover

Grave Reading by Richard Carr takes the reader on a very human journey with a man who’d lost his wife to some unnamed illness. You might think the poems are about grieving and loss, and some are.  But they are most definitely about life.  I think it begins with the title.  It’s kind of ambiguous.  Are the poems going to be a journey through a cemetery reading the tombstones?  Or is the reader being urged to take these poems seriously? Or maybe, tongue-in-cheek, it means the opposite by being ambiguous: it’s hard to know for certain just what to do in the face of loss, and also in the face of life.

My regular readers know that I’m a fan of Richard Carr’s poetry.  I also know him as a neighbor, although I see him rarely, and communicate mostly online with him.  Richard knows by now, I hope, that I work hard to give an honest, clear assessment of a book, and I also try to be constructive in whatever criticism I may have.

For Grave Reading, I really have no criticism. What I “found” in this poetry was what I have found before in Richard’s work: attention to detail, startling images, command of language, and depth of insight into the human condition.  What I also found in this book surprised me: it’s positive, even uplifting at times.  This made me nervous. And yet, I sensed an undercurrent of joy, sometimes amusement, and sometimes bemusement in this book.  There is as much light in these poems as there is dark.

And rhyme.  I think this is the first book of Richard’s that I’ve read in which he utilizes rhyme schemes, at times with great sophistication and power. One of the rhyme schemes involves the final word of the first and last lines per stanza.  For example, in the very first poem, “Grave Reading,” the first stanza:

I sit on the low stone of my wife’s grave/                        reading the newspaper out loud/                                       courteous prince — notorious souse/                                 cigars and crosses always brave/

(WordPress’ formatting is not conducive to poetry!)

In this stanza there’s even a rhyme echo at the end of lines 2 and 3.  I had the feeling that Richard was playing with rhyme.  In the next poem, the scheme is rhyme at the end of lines 2 and 4.  Then in the next poem, he switches up to couplets and rhymes the final word in this pattern: couplet 1 and 2 “rain” and “train,” couplet 3 and 4 “legs” and “begs.”  I loved this rhyming! It gives the images created by the words an added sonic punch.  Bravo.

My favorite poems — “Cat,” “tornadic dance,” “highlife,” “obit,” “a cricket song” — take something and turn it inside out on an emotional level.  Then after “a cricket song,” I sensed  more acceptance, resignation, in the narrator, the “I,” which readers of Richard Carr will recognize immediately as his way of pulling the reader into each poem and making the reader the “I.”  It’s not Carr himself.

I loved this collection of poems.  If you are a stranger to Richard Carr’s poetry, I’d recommend this collection as a good place to get to know it…..

Reading as a Writer: “Lucifer” by Richard Carr

Lucifer is Latin for “morning star.”  In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Lucifer was originally an Archangel in Heaven, the Morning Star, who refused to bow to Adam as the ruler of earth.  God kicked him out of Heaven and he fell from the firmament to become a “fallen angel,” the Devil, ruler of Hell.  Poets have used Lucifer as a character freely — Dante in The Inferno and John Milton in Paradise Lost as two examples — usually adhering fairly closely to his original role as the propagator of evil, the tempter of Job representing all humans.  Archibald MacLeish wrote my favorite rendering of the story of Job, the Devil and God, in the play J.B.  Given this rich history in literature, it’s not that surprising that Richard Carr decided to spend some time with him.

Published by Logan House

Published by Logan House

But who, or what, is Richard Carr’s Lucifer?  In the first line of the first poem in Lucifer, he makes his entrance in a twisted way, “clinging to my ear like a tick.”  This isn’t the little devil who sits on the left shoulder whispering into the ear, this guy draws blood and then tells the human narrator to “never mind.”  The tone has been set.  Lucifer is in charge, at least of the narrator.  Carr’s narrators and his use of the pronoun “I” have, in the past, implicated the reader in the actions and world of his poems.  This is the first time the narrator is truly a separate character, a male, in his early to mid-twenties, and aimless, a user of illegal drugs, a heavy drinker, a thief, an abuser who doesn’t seem to want anything in life except to exist outside of life.  After two readings, I can honestly say I found this narrator to have no redeeming characteristics.

Wow.  That’s a really ballsy thing to do — make the narrator totally unsympathetic to the reader.  I suspect Carr had something more in mind, i.e an exploration of the descent of man, “The Fall,” if you will, and the forces that bring it about.  In the beginning, the narrator is in college, living with his girlfriend Juliet, and pursues a party life.  But you know something’s rotten:

Last night we made dark love/when we should have argued,                           slept as calmly as staring corpses/writhing with maggots inside.

Yeah, this relationship with Juliet is on its way down, as are all the narrator’s relationships.  It’s like watching a train wreck: it’s impossible to take your eyes away from it.  In this book, Carr pulls the reader in by making her a witness to a kind of Job story that lacks God.

I’ve been reading Richard’s poetry for several years now, and regular readers of my blog here know that he’s one of my neighbors.  This collection is by far the darkest, the most despairing, and frightening of all his books, including One Sleeve which took the reader to the edge of death and back.  But Lucifer is also more emotionally distant than his other books.  The reader is no longer directly implicated in the crimes of life.  Instead, the reader can sit back and watch this story unfold, or “descend” would be a better word, from the safety of her own life.  Frankly, I’m glad Richard chose to create that distance.  The life he describes is beyond redemption, I think.  The narrator has thrown his towel in with Lucifer because Lucifer “enters my consciousness like a dragonfly on warm sunlight/and forgives my sins.

As I read this book, two symphonic works played in the background in my mind: Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 “Tragic,” and Anton von Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8, sometimes called “Apocalyptic.”  I was also reminded, oddly, of the hippie life in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the free-love, get high, peace to all movement that refused to grow up and be responsible.  There are also hints of domestic violence in the narrator’s relationship with Juliet.  She has a black eye in one poem, extensive bruises in another, a cut in another.  I was happy when they broke up.  Domestic violence was far more common than young people today can imagine, I think, and it was the emergence of Feminism and the Women’s Movement that began to expose it for what it truly was — assault on another human — in the early 1970’s.  A third character, Mick the Bastard, starts out in cahoots with the narrator, but makes different choices.  But then, he has not allied himself with Lucifer.

Richard has written the narrator’s story in gritty, urban language, with his usual stunningly appropriate and powerful images — I half-expected Lucifer to reveal that the narrator was in fact a vampire and I’m not convinced he isn’t — the urban landscape of a Manhattan, Brooklyn, or Los Angeles.  He refers to “the lions outside the city library” and I thought immediately of New York City’s Public Library, the front entrance flanked by giant lions.  He doesn’t name the city, however.  The narrator remains nameless as well.  The cover of this collection is stunning, and Richard’s photo is appropriately “Beat Poet”-like, I think.

This is poetry for the fearless reader, the reader with a strong stomach, not faint of heart, and with boundless imagination in order to take these poems in to the heart and become empathetic.  This powerful poetry is well worth the read!   I know that the next homeless guy I see on the street will remind me of Lucifer….