EILEEN TABIOS Engages
THE GRAPEVINE by Richard Lopez
(24th street irregular press, Sacramento, CA 2003)
The Kansas- and Yucatan-based poet jim mccrary recently gifted me with a small box of small publications. He was trying to give a second “life out there” to sections from his immense library of books. Gratefully, I was going through the various small books, chaps and one Book-on-A-Chair (thank you, jim!) and hot damn if I came across one pub that just compelled me to write this review. What’s interesting is that I already had a copy of, and had read, this chap—but it wasn’t until this more recent read that I felt I was able to see to the heart of its poems. A comment on subjectivity, sure—the poems were always the same but I had changed. I’m glad I’ve matured towards them. Anyway…
I sure wasn’t expecting to find myself reviewing this small but BIG-HEARTED chap! And the reason I’m so ecstatically bowled over by Richard Lopez’s THE GRAPEVINE is its immense presence. Presence as verb, that is, the poet is a human being quite attuned to—very alive in his—environment. Hence, you can have a poem such as the chap’s title poem:
We pushed the little Ford Festiva
through flat brown California
—dry vistas of nowhere
Places we could neither fathom
Nor work up much enthusiasm
—where were we—could have been
the final question on a philosophy midterm
—we could only move forward
the car had no reverse –the AM radio
gave such sound you would think
reality is random strings of dots
maybe it is for all we know
—we had no where to go
so forward –we made
the summit just after nightfall
we found the city lit up like a brick of firecrackers
—air sort and deep purple like a plum
but clear and above the city passenger
jets stacked eight high above LAX
—pinwheels of light
That last line, italicized
—pinwheels of light
so resonates with its double-take seeing effect.
Then there’s this wonderful poem, a fabulous meditation, too, on ars poetica:
To the Shade of William Everson
for Jim Powell
Old hippie brother who trusted the wild
Impracticality of exuberance
—poetry made you push the mop at Cal
go into woods and out to sea
find yourself beached at Santa Cruz
—I read you
—I see you now:
thick black eyeglasses long hair and beard
grey from days and nights solitary in woods
walking the downtown streets of the city
I walk with my hands
thrust deep in pockets under the hot August sun
Yes, I knew
a woman when I was a boy
with dark eyes and hands chapped from
cooking tortillas who spoke a language
I still work towards.
The poems in this collection became great because their poet sees so clearly. I am compelled to share yet another fine example:
There is something like the pleasure
a father feels when he gives, for no good reason,
a few dollar bills to his boy
Or it could be like an ecstasy
the junkie creates when he boils his fix
in a spoon. Anticipation becomes
a prix fixe when the needle
hits the vain. Something like the calm rush
of a slow winter descent into Keflavik
after a rough flight, when the night
turns to night but the sun is a sliver
on the lip of the horizon. When the city
is the base for what looks to be
the crabbed face of the Sea of Tranquility.
There are poems, too, hearkening the poet’s punk past and they provide a welcome saltiness. For example, “Camel” and this:
There were the bands that I loved,
Black Flag, T.S.O.L., Fear, D.O.A.
Names as caustic as their music,
like the dyes I used to color my hair.
And it was the smells: clove, crumpled leather,
taste of sweat. I recall corrosive guitar chords,
steady bass, noise from the crowd.
After that stage-dive I came upon a girl
who seemed to materialize from nowhere.
with short beige skirt, black fishnet stockings,
combat boots to shape her legs.
Her skirt brushed against my thigh
when she moved past me for the bathroom,
and I forgot where I was, who I am.
I’m “reviewing” mostly by posting poems in their totality because I think that’s the best way to share the marvels of THE GRAPEVINE. And if you read the poet’s blog Really Bad Movies, you will discern this poet’s immense powers of observation. THE GRAPEVINE, a March 2003 publication, indicates how long the poet has trained his eye. And that’s all that a great poet needs, at times—not an interesting or unusual life, but the ability to see what’s not usual in everyday details. It seems fitting to end with Presence:
Between cars rushing early winter morning,
the dawn haze so thick you could almost see,
hanging in air, crystals, as if
light had frozen and fractured. The struggle
to rise every morning, put on clothes as each
of us must. To bend to our daily work,
the ordinary, remarkable will
I don’t just love this poetry collection. I fell in love with it. What a feat, Richard Lopez. What. A. Feat.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor. An exception is made for the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA as that was co-written with another author, j/j hastain--and it is reviewed by T.C. Marshall in this GR #20 issue. She is also pleased to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her books. Her 2013 book, THE AWAKENING was reviewed by Tom Beckett at L'Amour Fou; by Amazon Hall of Famer Reviewer Grady Harp on Amazon and elsewhere; by Joey Madia at Literary Aficionado; by Edric Mesmer at Yellow Field; by Zvi Sesling at Boston Area Small Press & Poetry Scene; and by jim mccrary and his cat Iris at Babaylan Poetics. Her 2007 book, SILENCES: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF LOSS, was also recently reviewed by Nicholas T. Spatafora in Litter Magazine.