Poetry & Music
Review: The Book of Monsters, poems by Keith Flynn, $12.00, Animal Sounds Press (PO Box 7086 / Asheville NC 28802), ISBN: 1-889276-01-4. 1996.
Keith Flynn is a poet who understands music (the bio says he has a rock & roll band) but more importantly, since he is first of all a poet, he knows the music of language. And his knowledge is evident in his understanding of Shakespeare. Even without the clues (opening his book with a quote from Richard II: “No beast so fierce\ but knows some touch of pity,\ but I know none,\ and therefore am no beast,”) we would know, or should know, that he’s learned what Charles Olson learned from Shakespeare, that the music is in the syllables: “Weary with toil I haste me to my bed” (Sonnet 27), the slowness with the long drawn vowels, then the fast paced, hastening, the quick step to bed. As Olson knew, there is more here than just the pace of vowels; there is the tension generated between the two parts, a thesis / antithesis tension with the “weary haste” that springs the music as it combines with mind.
Olson in “Quantity in Verse”: “There is a rule: a thing ought to take off, and put down, and travel at all the varying speeds in between, precisely equal in amount and behavior to the thing it sets out from or seeks.” And later: “If the intensity of the attention is equal to it, innocence ought to yield what it is made up of....” This innocence is what drives Flynn’s poetry and is what allows him to see the monstrous for what it is, that which thwarts desire “out there” and within. Imagine Blake doing rock & roll.
Olson in “Projective Verse”: “It is by their syllables that words juxtapose in beauty, by these particles of sound as clearly as by the sense of the words which they compose.” “As clearly as” not in place of. Flynn is not a son of L*A*N*G*U*A*G*E.
Here is Flynn doing the Shakespearean Rag:
The dull days double in bulk.
A cumbersome lava-colored Buddha
waves hello in the front window,
ignoring the whistles & shrieks of traffic,
drizzling motors braked to a growl. (“The Garden of Earthly Delights”)
The Monsters? Remember our most forgettable politician? Dan Quayle: “Diaper Dan, Vice-Robin / to the Presidential Batman” (“The House of Night”); or that guy who always got the nice girls in high school: “he is the one / her mother warned her about” (“Mountain Man”); the village idiot as ax-murderer: Melvin Belleye, the victim as murderer and the kids who torment him (“Belleye”). And the monsters, they are us:
We are a sleepy regiment in retreat,
goaded with New Age jargon,
thrashing through the forest
with our huge heads in our hands,
like children stealing melons
stiff with monstrous thoughts. (“The Men’s Movement”)
And need it be mentioned, this guy knows how to write sex, not about it, just write it
The man receives his answer,
and the woman, showered and powdered,
dressing for dinner,
watches the children on the pier.
She shrugs & turns away as the sun gives up,
while they sing and prance
and flip a stiff jellyfish
headfirst into the shriveling waves. (“Ozone Park”)
My favorite poem is “Apostrophes” which opens with a quote from WCW, “the pure products of America go crazy” (from “To Elsie”). Here he honors musicians, monstrous after all: Elvis, Thelonious Monk, Bill Monroe, and the Wolf (Howling, no doubt); they say about his music: “Too primal for ordinary folks.” And we can say it about these poems. What’s left to do? The poem is a warning that better than talk like a critic, shut up and listen: “They paint the biography / of a naked ape / and shake another acrobat from his wire.”
There is a Todd Snyder song, “Joe’s Blues,” with the line “The eyes in the room are all looking at the star, but their butts are all movin’ to the bass guitar.” I don’t know what instrument Flynn plays in his band, but these poems have an unfailing rhythm that won’t fail to move any reader still keeping the faith with language.