Tuesday, September 30, 2008

review: Cemetery Country/ Yoga & Painting & Jazz & Travelling By Air

by Ronald Baatz and Mark Weber (Zerx Press, 2008)
Zerx Press, 725 Van Buren Place SE, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA 87108

This is a split chapbook with poems by Baatz on one side of the book and poems by Weber on the other. Zerx have done a few of these and they work well, especially since Weber, the Zerx editor, eschews the usual narcissistic attraction to poets who write like him and just pairs off with great writers.

Baatz, I think, may be just about the best there is (he'd be too humble even to countenance the idea, but I offer it for consideration anyway).I first knew him for great little haiku--the best I'd seen since Kerouac--but I've since realised he has tremendous range as a poet. The poems here are long(ish) personal poems about Ronald's dad, and his final months suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. The poems are moving without being mawkish, surreally tragically funny as dementia can occasionally be (I have worked with dementia sufferers and their confusion is perfectly portrayed), and--dare I say it in this cynical punkish post-Bukowski antipoetic age--grandly lyrical at the end: not in any self-conscious way--there's no arch language--it's just that the grand talent of the poet engaging with a subject that touches him deeply takes the writing to a level rarely seen since Ginsberg put down his pen on the final draft of "Kaddish".

Comparisons with Mark Weber's half of the book are useless, naturally, since as I've said Mark hasn't attempted to make the two sides cohere particularly (what you've got is two different books stapled together at the middle). But as different as "Yoga & Painting" is, it doesn't disappoint.

If you haven't read Weber you should. He's a disc jockey as well as a poet--playing jazz on a New Mexico radio station--and he used to be in a terrific band called The Bubbadinos if he isn't still. His free verse long-lined poems talk and walk like jazz improvisation without any of the affectations of other poets influenced by jazz or with an overhang of the Beat era whispering in their minds (even when, like Weber, they're trying to ignore it) (I don't know who Mark's poetic influences are, so that may be a huge assumption): Weber's voice is entirely his own, and his subjects are his own too--who else would write one about being asked to take off a beanie hat at a jazz concert, or how annoying it is when house painters blast hip hop music from a van radio while on a job? (He's right, it is.)

Perhaps the best poem on the Weber side of the book, at least in the sense that its meaning touches the reader most, is "The Saddest Day in America", which is about his father being called a pervert because he tries to watch some kids playing basketball. It's the way the world is going--that paranoia, that cynicism, that sense of being closed-off from your neighbour by fear.

This book reminds us that great poetry is one of the vital weapons we have against the darkness being brought down on us in the present age by free market capitalists, communists, Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, everybody who believes the real life is in Heaven or only in the cold iron of what Ginsberg calls "the dull material world". This is why we're doing what we're doing.

There were 400 copies pressed, by the way, so if you're interested you'd better get a move on and contact Mark at Zerx.

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