This is a belated review of books by two of my favorite poets, Paul Pines and Daniel Marlin. The fact that I have know them for fifty years does not in any way influence my high esteem for their work. Both are part of the living tradition of the poetry renaissance of the 1950s and early sixties, whose impact lasts with me all these decades. Although sometimes facilely described as the poetry of the “beat generation”, it was much deeper and much more universal. It incorporated spiritual and philosophical motifs going back thousands of years, if not to our earliest collective memories as members of our human tribe.
Paul’s “Reflections in a Smoking Mirror: poems of Mexico and Belize” is a powerful engagement with the culture of the indigenous peoples, the Aztecs in particular. Part one, titled “Configurations of Conquest”, is exactly what the title suggests: reflections on the Spanish colonization and genocide of the native peoples. In his own words:
Reflections in A Smoking Mirror is a crazy quilt of historical and personal material knit by themes unraveled over the last thirty years. I first went to Mexico in the 60s, before there was a paved road between Mexico City and Yucatan, and most of the archaeological sites referred to here were still covered by bush. I went again after returning from Vietnam when the remains of lost civilizations and the legacy of conquest drove me to search for what might be reflected in the Smoking Mirror, both as volcanic lake, and metaphor. During that time I’ve come to understand what I may have done beyond my intention, to let the ancestors speak in ways that have not always been apparent to me, except for the blood-smoke on these pages.
In 1959 Jack Kerouac wrote “Mexico City Blues”, an attempt to write poems in the same way a jazz musician improvises. Paul Pines’s poems bear up well in comparison to Kerouac’s, no surprise since he was deeply involved in the jazz scene in NYC in the 70s as owner of the Tin Palace, a groundbreaking venue for avant-garde musicians. Today he hosts the yearly Lake George jazz festival.
One of my favorite poems in the collection comes from part three, “The Belize News”. Titled “Rum Point Sutra”, it pays homage to the local scene and the late Paul Blackburn, one of the greatest poets of the 1950s renaissance. (My apologies to Paul for not getting the poem’s typography right since MS Word is hostile to those kinds of esthetic considerations, but the words should suffice.)
RUM POINT SUTRA
Another rainy day,
cobalt clouds along the peninsula
turn sand grey.
Bananas I bought
last week in Mango Creek
are turning too.
It will be
a challenge to eat them
before they go black.
Also I am out of propane
and must dispose of fruit
in the fridge
I brought back
from San Cristobal
two weeks ago.
this is not a poem
unless that be the place
of what is
or will become
the song of an idiot
who can’t let go,
a lover with a stomach ache
waiting for a dial tone
body on the other end
no reason to pretend the heart
is not a fruit
this is about fire,
in which the senses
are sutured like old wounds.
but a refrain
(composed three months
contemplating his coffee cup, he wrote:
EMPTY AND ALIVE!
Reflections in a Smoking Mirror can be ordered from Dos Madres, the publisher.
Daniel Marlin is a Yiddishist, a socialist, an artist and a poet. What more can you ask for, nu?
In the introduction to “Amagasaki Sketchbook”, Daniel states:
From 1999 through 2009,1 spent roughly half of each year, late December through late June, living in Amagasaki City, between Osaka and Kobe, Japan. This collection includes some of the art I made on walks past fields in Mukonoso, Sonoda and Itami, and along the banks of the Mukogawa and Mogawa rivers. I painted the colors of the darkening western sky at dusk, sketched as I rode trains and lingered at Hankyu Umeda station, and at intersections nearby, where I was fascinated by the relentless, fluid landscape of crowds.
As an outsider, I used writing and art as quiet portals of entry into Japanese life. These disciplines helped me to overcome isolation, as did the friends I made, Japanese language study, involvement in the local anti-war movement and in Amnesty International, and a walking temple pilgrimage on Shikoku Island.
Trees and clouds were indifferent to my artistic attention, but at close quarters in train cars, I needed to be discreet, and thus discovered a method which permitted me to observe other passengers indirectly, without being noticed. Sitting at the end of the car, my pad and pencil hidden behind the backpack placed on my lap, I learned to sketch my fellow passengers’ reflected images in the glass of the adjoining door or opposite window. Or, I simply peered into the next car, whose riders never looked my way.
A drawing of weary Japanese train passengers, filled with the humanity that pervades all of Dan’s work:
Despite Dan’s claim that trees and clouds were indifferent to his artistic attention, I suspect that their souls were more than pleased with his beautiful watercolor renditions.
And finally, here is one of my favorite poems in the collection, “Crow Log”, a most enchanting homage to one of nature’s least enchanting creatures:
In the neat rows of a field of spinach and green onions, shiny silver DVDs and hand mirrors hang from stakes, their glare intended to repel foraging birds. Nearby, two rubber facsimiles of crows have been tied by their feet, limp heads inches above the soil. The message,”Woe to ye who trespass here!”
Working its way down an unplanted furrow nearby, a large crow takes awkward, plodding steps in soft dirt, stopping occasionally to inspect debris and peck a stray seed, then passes under its own lynched image without a glance or tremor.
With three barks,
barrel-deep like a seal’s,
at the temple gate
Crow glides from an old tree, bearing a persimmon in its beak, lands on a dark, tin roof. Cocking its head with what seems both pride and confusion, it lays the bright orange fruit down, and begins poking it—as if expecting it to flee, or fight back.
Perched on the aluminum rail of the apartment house parking lot, crow is engaged in conversation, a low-key, hollow, two-note call. When I approach, it’s tone changes suddenly, to a single sharp “Crahh!”
Is it a look-out while its partner
nearby breaks into someone’s minivan?
Inquiries on purchasing “Amagasaki Sketchbook” should be directed to Daniel Marlin.
Other posts about the works of Paul Pines are at http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/11/07/last-call-at-the-tin-palace/ and http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2007/11/26/my-brothers-madness/.