Short Takes: Of Poetry and Mortality and Angel Pirates
August 18, 2012
By Brian Arsenault
I don’t know singer-songwriter Bobby Long’s music so I come to his poetry fresh. Fresh like the poetry itself in Losing My Brotherhood, crisp as fall mornings, snapping like a brisk breeze in the trees.
The images range from the stark from “On a Bad Day“:
“I’m a lone diner, a friend without friends . . .”
To the softly romantic as in “On a Good Day“:
“A flowered dress can never lead to unhappiness. . .”
Still, perhaps one should first ask the question as to whether there can be poetry at all in the age of witless tweets and e-mail catch phrases and abbreviations. OMG, we all know them by heart by now so I won’t list more of them here. Do we have time and tolerance for carefully crafted images?
Pray that we do. Long gives us some hope. At least he knows how to break a contemporary rule or two. Consider also from “On a Good Day“:
“Coffee and cigarettes lead me to happiness. . .”
Can you still write that? Isn’t cigarette smoking effectively illegal in New York (Long’s a transplanted Londoner) along with big sodas? Won’t coffee soon be a banned substance along with the white sugar some still use in it?
Oh the horror. Oh the humanity. Oh well, as Long notes later:
“Manhattan and Berlin are both slowly falling.”
Humanity, humanness is the essence of Long’s poetry. With poetry, it always should be.
From “A Man for the People‘:
“Maybe I need my father and the whim of a pretty girl’s hair
as it’s all misty and bitter today,
out in the world”
A pretty girl’s hair and other lyricism aside, Long is certainly dark enough for modern times but his mostly free verse isn’t above some occasional internal rhyming and pleasing rhythm. He is a song writer and a singer after all.
From “You’re No Anne Boleyn“:
“the subdued enclosure of your famous disclosure
has me covering up the bits that you forgot
the fanatical reprieve of all the people you deceive
the rumor’s hit the road
the rumor’s hit the road”
Long’s poems are mostly short. Crisp, as I said at the start. A couple of images, fleeting moments quickly over, quirky considerations.
“When the time is right I’ll write for him
Like Salieri did for Mozart
Without the trek of deceit and jealousy”
That’s from “If I Saw Leonard Cohen.“ I like that poem very much. Lou Reed appears in another poem. Bobby has good taste in music.
By the way, there are some drawings by Ben Edge interspersed throughout the book that kind of depress me although they are very good. They’re a lot like drawings in kids’ books that I read long ago. They depressed me too. But Long’s poetry doesn’t.
I haven’t yet read all the poems in Losing My Brotherhood. I’m glad about that. Not just because I like Long’s work and I’m not anxious to be done with it. Also, as with short stories, one wants each of them to stand on its own and not be amalgamated with all the rest.
There’s a bit of Brautigan in Long’s work, succinct, right to the heart of the matter. Does anyone remember Richard any more.? In my youth, he was for a time all the rage. Then again, sorry DK, so was Shelley once. I haven’t seen a young girl with a book of Shelley’s poems in her hand for a long time. Pity.
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