All website design, text, graphics, selection and arrangement thereof are the copyrighted works
of Prick of the Spindle, Inc.
© 2013 prickofthespindle.com
The Everyday Parade/Alone With Turntable, Old Records by Justin Hamm
Reviewed by Kathleen Kirk, The Poetry Cheerleader
Crisis Chronicles Press, 2013
Saddle stapled, 30 pages, $7
Back in February, I reviewed Justin Hamm’s chapbook, Illinois, My Apologies, realizing it was set in my own back yard, central Illinois. Then, I looked forward to reading and reviewing his next book. Well, I’m back, and so is vinyl—that black, grooved material, circular, that takes a needle and plays a set of songs. Flip the album over, and there’s another set of songs on the other side. And that’s exactly the format of Hamm’s latest chapbook, The Everyday Parade/Alone with Turntable, Old Records. The first title refers to side one of the album; the second title refers to side two. The poems are printed right side up and upside down. That is, you have to flip the chapbook to get to the other side. And the covers are black images of vinyl records, identical except for the purple disk at the center with the “song list” printed in white.
Many people praise the rich, authentic sound of vinyl, preferring it to the pure, clean digital technology of music on CD. Others say vinyl carries imperfections, the faint fuzzy whir of needle on groove. In these poems, we hear a pure, authentic voice, faintly fuzzy with the whir of nostalgia, the memory of small towns and the people in them, the wonder of first discovering Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, the blue notes of a train whistle. Maybe we hear a bit of the Midwestern twang of a folksinger in the town square. Or a rainstorm, drowning out a bluegrass concert. Or maybe that’s the “rippleshimmery river,” not a vinyl imperfection at all! At any rate, it’s all lovely and creates a mood.
The title poem, and the first song on side one, shows us a couple who’s missed the town’s Christmas parade, because “the damned old / pickup won’t start again.” The next day, they fix it, with a junkyard part, and watch, instead, “the Everyday Parade” of people in their daily routines, the down home melody of life. I love this reversal of the “hit parade,” though the people in town have clearly taken some hits. The poem, and the parade, ends, not with Santa, but with a similarly dramatic character:
And finally, not St. Nicholas
but a gangly old splotch-faced drunk
tripstepping up 4th Street
and crooning Sinatra from under
his Victorian mustache,
singing just the way a catfish might,
if he believed no one
could possibly hear his notes
swimming or sinking flat
beneath the spread and weight
of all that muddy water.
I love the catfish song here and the burbles and echoes of all kinds of music. Speaking of catfish, I love the simplicity of “Poem for Saturday,” in the center of which is a quiet manifesto about how to live:
If ever there was a day, friend,
to fish and catch nothing
but the glint of sunlight on your hook
and a few slippery notions about living,
then what I’m telling you, this day was it.
Hamm’s simple diction opens up into a rich inventiveness, like that of Gerard Manley Hopkins or (another Dylan) Dylan Thomas. “Once upon a mighty fiddlestorm,” one poem begins—the rainstorm poem, “Down Home.” “Then: all a swollen shamecloud empty.”
Kathleen Kirk is a writer whose work appears online and in print in Confrontation, Menacing Hedge, Poetry East, Spillway, Waccamaw, and elsewhere. She is the author of four poetry chapbooks, most recently Nocturnes (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2012), and the poetry editor for Escape Into Life. She blogs about poetry, reading, and life at Wait! I Have a Blog?!
Diddy Wah Diddy: A Beale Street Suite by Corey Mesler
Reviewed by C. L. Bledsoe, The Lit Reporter
Ampersand Books, Sept. 2013
Perfect bound, 218 pp., $16
Corey Mesler is that rarest of things: a truly fun, literary writer. He’s quite prolific as well. His latest book, Diddy Wah Diddy, is a love song to the Beale Street of Memphis’ past, after WC Handy, for the most part, but before Elvis and Sun Records, so sometime around the early to mid-twentieth century. (Beale Street, if you don’t know, is the musical heart of Memphis, the area where the most famous of the clubs have always been.) The book covers a time when Beale was fading from its once-legendary heights into a kind of ghost town. WC Handy, known as the father of the blues, lingers more as a legend than a man, showing up occasionally in the crowd of a concert and a few times as a statue in Handy Park. Elvis shows up as a proto-musician, well before his star has launched. Mesler has chosen to focus on the more obscure period of Beale’s history, when clubs were closing and the magic was fading, something he alludes to often in the book. And yet, even in this gray period, there’s still a verve and vibrancy to Beale that shines through.
Mesler’s book is arranged as a series of interconnecting vignettes, most of which would be capable of standing alone. He opens with a vibrant prologue which introduces the reader to Melser’s bebop, anarchic style. I’m reminded of Salmon Rushdie, in terms of the manic, almost stream of consciousness style. The novel begins, “And so we went down to the Club BingoBango on Beale—and this was O 1930something when Beale was Beale I think you know what I mean, and there were four of us, near as I can recollect…” He goes on to introduce one of the major players of the book: Sweet Annie Divine, along with others who come and go, some eerily similar to real people, like “Red Rolly Kastlecream, baseball’s first black shortstop.” Characters like Divine weave in and out of Mesler’s stories. They are strippers, musicians, bartenders. The first story proper is “Arms Akimbo: A Gest,” which is a folk tale-esque story about love and music. Mesler’s anarchic signature colors the story, from quips in which he breaks the fourth wall to crack wise, to more meaningful pokes, like his series of love poems written by one character to another which finally tell us, “Nothing is written.” Attributed to “Lawrence (you know, of Arabia).” I don’t want to spoil the story but there’s a supernatural element which recurs in later stories. Of course, the next story is about Santa Claus and a bartender.
“Jack Crosswaith & The Devil” is a reworking of a Zora Neal Hurston folktale. Mesler deals with the idea of cultural appropriation rather aptly with “Butterfly McQueen’s Oscar: A Lie.” The real McQueen is best known as the actress who played Prissy, the African-American maid in Gone with the Wind who uttered the infamous line, “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ babies!” The focus of Mesler’s story is on a fictitious Oscar McQueen won (in real life, Hattie McDaniel did win and became the first African-American Oscar winner). It’s important to note that McQueen hated the role and found it demeaning. By awarding her an Oscar, Mesler is perhaps trying to acknowledge McQueen’s presence and career, not just for this one role, but for a lifetime of struggling against racism. In terms of dealing with race issues, for the most part, Mesler avoids them deftly by simply making most of his characters black, rather than trying to interject white characters into a predominantly black world.
Mesler’s book includes songs, a play, werewolves, an angel, and lots of blues and jazz. It’s full of ghosts, some real and some representative. Mostly, it’s full of humor and the same kind of verve found in good music. In Million Year Old Carbon, Mesler captured the Beale of the 1960s counterculture, and now he’s gone back to a more formative time, but the life is still there in his stories and in the bricks of Beale.
C. L. Bledsoe is the author of the young adult novel Sunlight; three poetry collections, _____(Want/Need), Anthem, and Leap Year; and a short story collection called Naming the Animals. A poetry chapbook, Goodbye to Noise, is available online. Another, The Man Who Killed Himself in My Bathroom, is available here. His story, "Leaving the Garden," was selected as a Notable Story of 2008 for Story South's Million Writer's Award. His story “The Scream” was selected as a Notable Story of 2011. His nonfiction piece “Thesis” was nominated for 2012 Best of the Net. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times. He blogs at Murder Your Darlings. Bledsoe has written reviews for The Hollins Critic, The Arkansas Review, American Book Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Pedestal Magazine, and elsewhere. Bledsoe lives with his wife and daughter in Maryland.
New Artists Added to the Galleries, Including:
The Prick of the Spindle online art galleries feature standing exhibits from more than 30 artists. Visit them here.