Monday, September 12, 2011

Vintage Gray by Joshua Michael Stewart (poetry)

    "...And you turn
back to your first memories,
when you were the one
and even a trip to Kmart
had the potential for greatness.
Your whole life you waited
for that moment when purpose would be defined.
Gradually the troll moved out of your closet,
and you came to agree with Hoffman,
that indeed Kmart sucks.  But still you wait."

---from "Answering Machine"

From looking at punctuation in an entirely literal light to analyzing Jimmy Stewart's voice, Joshua Michael Stewart's collection takes a different angle to look at things we see every day.  Concrete poetry with stark visual images and a gentle wit combine into poetry that is easily readable, even when at certain points you have a sharp intake of breath at just how sneaky he threw in that raw wire of emotion.

There's something fun about his poems, even when the subject is not joyous.  His choice of topics make you happy that someone still thinks about things like Bing Crosby's voice or who can describe that moment of silence after a mother slaps her child.  In "Vintage Gray", he allows an old radio show transport him to a place in the past which softens his present.  He captures the thoughts that occupy us while we exist in the present and imagine places we've never seen but that feel like memories.

In "You Are What You Eat", Stewart describes life as a butcher, "a hook in my back", and wanting to quit.  His plea, "but I don't have the guts," mixes humor and the sad reality of being stuck without options, and the way your viewpoint changes on observing those making their own choices.

My favorite of the book is "Ripping a Charles Simic Poem Out of The New Yorker", as the character plans a significant crime (at least to the nasty saleslady), but the trail of subscription cards falling out of the magazine are surely going to give him away. 

There's nothing overly conceptual or meta-physical about this grouping of poems. This is a collection of reality, askew at times, but pictured vividly, with all of its shadows and light significantly focused.  Of all, I came away from the book smiling at the wit that thinks of elephants in pajamas and of playing poker under a church pew.

The chapbook is available at
I purchased my own copy at that site.

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