richard lopez Reviews
This Drawn & Quartered Moon by klipschutz
(Anvil Press, Vancouver, B.C., 2013)
As a reader/poet I feel a certain lack in my own education. Confession: I’ve not read deeply the 20th Century French writers like Derrida or Foucault. I’m surely damned to hell for my lack but I say in my defense I read for pleasure. I am serious when the subject is pleasure. I have read for pleasure since the day I first seriously picked up a book -- I was 16 and that book was anthology of Sci-Fi stories published in the mid-1960s -- and I said, yes, writing is what I want for the rest of my life. When I discovered poetry a couple years later there was no turning back the course of my life. Reading poetry is what gives me the greatest pleasure. It still is. So my education, studying the philosophers and lit. theorists, trying to read the ABC of Reading by Mr. Ezra Pound and falling short, is at a terminus. I’ve done my best. And I’m sure my mind would explode with discovery once I breach the border of my inabilities to engage with philosophy, lit. theory etc etc.
My loss, I am sure, but perhaps my self-education in poetry is not without some merit. For example, this book under review by San Francisco poet klipschutz (pen name of Kurt Lipschutz) is a great pleasure-giving book. In it klipschutz engages our world(s) with the blitzkrieg timing of a great comic. Is it sacrilegious to be funny in poems? I mean, holy shit, with all the damned earnest, serious writing out there you would think comedy is dead. Maybe it is, but don’t tell klipschutz because he is writing the good stuff.
For example, the character study “Oliver Othello King, Jr.” is a prose poem about an HIV positive Vietnam vet the speaker meets at a bus stop. The speaker says, “That’s quite a name, my friend.” Indeed! How “Double O King” got sick was either from “Heroin or hookers. Maybe both. I like drugs and I like women, so help me god.” The image of King is sweet as well as comic. klipschutz draws this character study with warm colors. Instead of grim Social Realism the reader is treated to a fully realized, and flawed, human being and the poem is made the better for it.
Still, the poet is not always so kind. Take the poem “The Love Bus,” a none-too-flattering portrait of Courtney Love and her exploits in SF before Kurt Cobain and world fame. The epigraph by her first husband James Moreland is fairly damning of Love, “I thought I was marrying a female Johnny Rotten. Instead, I got this right-wing Phyllis Diller.” I’ve no idea about the accuracy of such a statement. But within the poem the epigraph does more than foreshadow a woman who want to rule the world -- and who does later rule the world of pop culture at least for a few brief moments. The bus in the title is one of “these very workhorse Geary buses” Love would ride “smacked back to the gills.” The poem turns on an idiom of the street. Love is made into a monster of her own doing. Rather, like the lyrics of a punk song that is in revolt of a world gone mad, klipschutz adopts a Holy Shit! sort of attitude by exclaiming “Oh! the stories these bus routes could tell!” and draws a portrait of a complicated human being who is “hellbent to show this whole burnt-out town” serious punk rock chops.
The book is divided into six sections with their own category. One section is about Elvis Presley. Another section is styled after the lives of the U.S. presidents like JFK, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford and the two George Bushes. Other sections deal with the life in writing and the life of a flawed, yet essential, human being. Take the section Numbered Hearts where a poet (not necessarily the author of this poem) gives an apology of sorts.
The Plagiarist Hones His Apologia
These very words are stolen to begin with.
From a cheap pocket dictionary. Ha!
No, I highjacked a Scrabble game
and rearranged the letters. Hee!
Not from anywhere exactly,
Though originally. . .Hie!
Hold on there, ossifer --
once, maybe thrice,
all a misunder-
An ars poetica? Not really. The poet achieves a delicate shift in registers with terrific comic timing. The poem moves from a sober explanation of his crime to a drunk’s deranged rationale of devotion to a woman and finally to a poet’s turn of a phrase into utter music.
Furthermore, klipschutz confesses his guilt in a poem.
Guilty W/ An Explanation #2
The gun was, like, a prop. The bullets were symbols.
The blood -- I hadn’t thought that part through.
There is no number one explanation in this book. Why is there a number two? I haven’t the foggiest idea but what I do admire in this couplet is the first sentence where the word “like” is foregrounding the poem in the speech of an ordinary life. This is a poem written in an idiom of the ordinary. We have had conversations using the word “like” as a ballast in sentences or we have overheard conversations similar to it. This poem is an ars poetica. Blood -- real perhaps, certainly a metaphor for the daily struggles of life -- is part of the process of living and writing even if the poet “hadn’t thought that part through.”
I didn’t scratch the surface of this magnificent book. It would take a good MA thesis. klipschutz is one of a kind. In spite of my own poor education I am illuminated by a poet like klipschutz whose extraordinary poems of social unrest and lyric tenderness buoyed by great comic timing give me hope that the world is not going to hell. Instead, I am braced with a fortitude that would make ol’ grandpa Samuel Becket proud. Because with a poet like klipschutz -- life, and the life in poetry -- keep on going on.
richard lopez is still alive, reading and writing. his last chapbook was hallucinating california co-authored with jonathan hayes. his next chapbook will be something else.