“Georgian Dublin”, rots in constant damp,
The way it always has, I guess – although
Only weeks have passed since I moved in,
And I’m in no position yet to know
The letter from the flashy postage stamp;
Which decay comes from without – which from within.
One of the categories I created for tagging purposes on this blog is ‘Poetry’, but sadly I have not reviewed much for the site. This is a shame, as there was a time I loved reading poems. My dad often describes poetry as ‘condensed thought’, an idea captured in verse with an exactness that can elude prose writing.
The poet is also a role more suited to an outsider than a novelist, as s/he in transcribing thought and action to verse is already describing the world in a skewed fashion. That perspective lends itself to the estranged observer, a narrator who questions what he sees far more readily. The scene is not set for the slow unravelling of plot, it is an eruption, a sudden reveal of intimate feelings that would go unsaid otherwise.
I am also curious as to why there is not more well-known poetry derived from an urban setting. So many of us spend each and every day living, working, socializing within the concrete and glass borders of cities. Surely there is plenty of material there for a poet, however, poetry today carries a nostalgic cachet, with ‘poetry lovers’, insisting on the bucolic poems of yesteryear over the urbanised sprawl. Cities have been occupied by prose stylists, let the poets labour in the golden fields of memory.
Quincy R. Lehr’s poems situate themselves directly within the city landscape. There are repeated themes of urban alienation, the suddenness of violence, the isolation of people trapped together in close spaces, with the poet just another anonymous face in the multitude. Why there is No Socialism in the United States of America neatly encapsulates the malaise that sets in on a late night on the town, with fellow commuters eyeing each other suspiciously, constantly aware of the threat posed by ‘strangers’. In New York everyone’s a stranger –
Each one of us was tired, pissed-off, and bored,
Angry at the hour and with those pricks –
That fat-assed bitch, who muttered at a cell phone,
That rat-faced airline worker at the front,
That punk-ass hoodlum, glaring at his feet,
That stuck-up twat, that sad-eyed brown-haired schmuck
Gawking at New York’s predawn, backlit blackness.
The anger that comes with this anonymity is coupled with Lehr’s own frustrations with adult life, the precarious negotiations of romance and the expectation of matrimony, as well as coming face to face with the vision of his father’s self sapped by cancer. The ugly inevitability of death throws the idealism of youth into question; all the poet’s adolescent dreams and plans seemed to have fluttered away like dry leaves caught in a gust of wind. Sex and life seem like traps, chipping away at anything individual, or distinct about the person who dreamed once about what waits in the future.
Lines For My Father addresses this disillusionment with the promises of a better life that come with youth, promises that in their heedless enthusiasm can set the older generation and its offspring at each other’s throats. When younger the poet expressed contempt for the “Ambitions of an ordinary size” of his parent, but concludes that he and his peers are even worse off, “we’re no happier than you, and can’t quite seem to sit for tests that you had failed”.
Drink and eager lust are engines for youthful action and reflecting back on them can cause embarrassment, yet those were the times the poet felt most alive, when he was “A bookworm almost trying to be mean”. In rejecting the symbols of the past, the young fail to learn how to live in the present, instead relying on pretension, shows of quick wit, or aggression.
The lonely city lives captured by Lehr, with the spirited arguments of drunks whose voices are already cracked by tobacco inhalation and broken relationships that fade in the memory (where therapy fails, a friend’s invite to watch Dario Argento giallo flicks succeeds!) display a certain kind of beauty, reminiscent of Beaudelaire’s inverted elegy to his city in Le Spleen de Paris. There’s a honesty to the ugliness on display that makes the imagery delicate and precious. Recommended.
With thanks to Seven Towers Publishing for the review copy.