Jack Henry Reviews

Los Angeles Terminal (Poems 1971-1980) by Doug Draime reviewed by Jack Henry

Before reading Los Angeles Terminal, I couldn’t pick Doug Draime out of a poet line-up to save my sorry ass. Blame that on my lack of being a true reader of the underground press. Doug started out in the 60’s and has been a part of the underground arena since. I had no idea what I missed out on.

Covert Press has put out another great chapbook in Los Angeles Terminal. It does what a good chapbook is supposed to do: it makes you hunger for more. Doug Draime is a true poet, one of exquisite talent, insight and observation. He is the bridge between the last Beats, Bukowski and modern writers. He is the poet I want to be.

When I first read this book I got pissed off. There are poets that challenge me, poets that make me laugh and not in a good way, and poets that make me want to shove a sharpened pencil in my eye. Doug made me get my sharpener out.

Twenty-seven poems with acetylene focus outline a darker image of Los Angeles. For those that live here you already know it’s a shithole, after reading this book, others will find out. But the color and life put into each line make the visit worthwhile.

More than a few poems stick out.

From Steak & Eggs Special, a haunting look at the search and fear of companionship in the big city.

a girl in a leather dress
a stranger
sits down across from me in a booth

you havin’ the special? she asked
yeah i say
i am too she says but adds:
separate checks ok?
ok i agree

It ends w/a kicker.

then she takes her shoe off
& gently puts
a slender
black-nyloned foot
against my crotch

There is certain loneliness and longing in LA that Doug captures well.

From All I knew About Her…

I knew she
chanted at a
box she called
an altar,
words in Japanese,
she didn’t
know the
meaning of.
I knew she
feared the
darkness &
ran from the light.
I knew, I knew,
the sound of
her tears.

There’s also a great deal of insanity in Los Angeles, which might be true of most cities, but in my travels I have never seen as many crazy people as I do here in LA. In A Night On The Boards Doug discusses the insanity of trying to get a beer and a sandwich, how reality can explode and mix w/the lunacy of survival.

…Someone laughed as Mary spilled a
pitcher of beer
on her hot new satin dress.
oh, jesus, i thought, all this shit
for a couple of free beers
& a sandwich?

The last poem is perhaps the best, in my opinion. Los Angeles Terminal: After A Friend’s Suicide Attempt. It’s a piece that harbors a sense of despair, a sense of detachment that is so common here.

…What we thought were smoke singles
(or whatever they were) have stopped
and now there is only the smog.

Indeed.

If you are a slacker asshole like me that never read Doug Draime you need to change that right now. Go to http://www.covertpoetics.com and buy this book. It is well worth your money, and it will make you appreciate truly great writing.

~ Jack Henry deadbeatpress.com

“Holy Toledo! The Sonnet River Volume” by John Dorsey reviewed by Jack Henry

“Holy Toledo!” is not a great title. This may piss off the writer or whoever came up w/it, but it reminds me of a Loonie Tunes Cartoon. And that image is 180 degrees from the strength of content just as All-American blue balled christians are 180 degrees from reality.

That’s my only complaint. Well nearly so. “Holy Toledo” is organized by year, 2007 to 2003. That is how it is organized in the text and that’s a mistake. The poetry of John Dorsey is a journey, deeply metaphysical and metaphorical, but a challeng-ing flight of growth and evolution. Putting newer poems to the front denies the reader to get the sense of growth, however subtle, however nuanced, of the poet. End complaints.

John Dorsey is a terrific poet. I used to think I was a poet but after reading Dorsey I realized I am a grave digger. With his unique use of what I call asymmetric meter, Dorsey’s poetry challenges the reader. It is different each time. While reviewing the text I read it several times, including back to front a couple of times. Below is an example of this asymmetric meter: From “canadian basement blues”

it’s true i saw
a girl dreaming zombie
blues shooting pennies out
of her little mary
sunshine until abraham lincoln
got up and walked
off she was the
ghost of calamity
jane

Dorsey denies the reader punctuation to know where the starts and stops should be, thus truly forcing the reader to insert their own measure and rhythm to a piece, and also forcing absolute reader interpretation of a given lines, stanzas and entire poems. This is subtle but very calculated. Any other poet might break blues and shooting pennies out on the third line of the above selection. Also, off and she was the from the seventh stanza might require a break but it would change meaning, and it would falsify the meter of style.

Another style characteristic true to a Dorsey poem are the one liners, or one-off’s, that may or may not hold value within the piece as a whole, but often demand their own attention in a singular us-age. For example: from “mermaid blues”

when you’re 16 yrs
old every little thing
feels like a love
song written in the
key of a minor apocalypse

A damning start to a great poem. Again the use of asymmetric meter and a purposeful lack of punctuation force the reader to interpret and think for him or herself.

One of the best examples of a Dorsey poem is listed below in its entirety: “the last stencils on earth”

it figures that the
last product of real
revolution would be hiding
in some cellar in
mexico pancho villa
gene bloom together
swallowing words soaked in
blood fighting mad in
the sacramento sun they
don’t make bullets like
this anymore some say
they never
did

The cadence and meter are strong but jagged, meaning that it is not a simplistic, linear voice, rather it rattles the reader in the manner they look at and absorb the words. It is challenging, intelligent but by no means simplistic. There is a great depth that the first blush and understanding. This again points to my desire to have the format changed from new to old to old to new. You get a greater sense of the poet’s growth. His form develops.

Some of the poems from 2003 and 2004 dig at the beginning of style. from “pink plastic flamingos”

exist simply
for those
who refuse
to put

a limit
on miracles
and everyone
else, well
fuck them
anyway

The ending is too easy. However by 2007 section you have a seemingly simplistic poem that is anything but: “the ballad of ass masterson”

america is a sad
cowboy song of unrequited
hate edited to the
teeth with love one
nation wire tapped under
god with liberty and
bootlegged sex tapes for
all

This is Dorsey in full effect. To conclude, John Dorsey is one the finest writers of this generation and writes to a level many poets should aspire too. Often a poet will write without a sense of style, I am guilty of this, many are, but if you write long enough, and are honest enough, your style becomes the yoke of every day writing. Dorsey has this.

“Holy Toledo! The Sonnet River Volume” is a great book. It includes many of my favorites by Dorsey and newer ones I am unfamiliar with. You get a sense of the growth of the poet’s eye and voice, as well as a definitive style. I highly recommend adding this volume to your collection.

~ Jack Henry

available via e-mail at luc.simonic@gmail.com $30 tell him John Dorsey sent you

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