can’t stop now! by John Yamrus Review

can’t stop now!

by John Yamrus

Epic Rites Press, March 12 2011
ISBN: 978-1926860060
Pages: 133
Reviewed by: Devin McGuire

The opening poem in John Yamrus’ latest book “can’t stop now!” addresses his readers and critics with a little secret. Besides all the hard work that any successful poet must sweat out at the keyboard, in the end the only thing that matters is:

you either
got
it,

or
you
don’t.

Besides the fact that Yamrus does have it, there is great reasoning for him to point out this little secret. It’s not to detract his critics, but rather to provide caution to his would be imitators. “can’t stop now!” is Yamrus’ eighteenth collection of poetry. While Yamrus’ work won’t likely win awards in poetry contests he’s been at the game for over forty years now; he’s certainly earned some respect in regards to what it takes both to become and to remain a force to this day. John Yamrus writes the kind of poetry that punches right through to the core of his reader’s hearts. He is a poet who needs no validation from the literary or academic establishment. However as a contemporary of the late L.A. poet Charles Bukowski (a poet Yamrus draws heavy influence from) one can easily sympathize with any defensive posturing on his part. (If I can rightly call it that) Yamrus has doubtlessly had to deal with the same sort of criticisms Bukowski did; You call THIS poetry? might likely be the most common one. Yamrus makes efforts to address this in this poem from “can’t stop now”:

on reading some of

my
poetry

this
guy i knew

said,
“damn,
if that’s what
you call poetry…

i can do
that

any time”

and he
pulled a pen
out of his pocket

and
wrote:

“the birds
that fly over
my yard in the summer
never bother
to land

they only
shit in the pool.”

then,
he put the pen
back in his pocket,

smiled
and walked
away.

Like Bukowski, Yamrus likely has his critics and imitators for the same reasons. He makes it look so easy. His poetry lacks nearly all manner of poetic device. In “can’t stop now!” you will find no easily discernable rhythm, pattern, musical device, alliteration, and no rhyme, no metaphor, simile, symbolism, or allegory, no strongly wrought imagery and no form. What you will find is tone, all tone, a been there done that no bullshit tone driven by a narrative fuel that adheres to a strict lack of pretense with themes that are everyday universalities, poetry that is accessible, poetry that makes people who didn’t think they liked poetry actually willing to admit that they like THIS poetry. This is important stuff as Yamrus’ explains in this poem:

every year

someone
sends me
an entry form
for the local
Poet Laureate competition.

unable
to throw the thing out,
but unwilling to co-operate,
I take ten minutes
and fill out the form,

sending in
the required
number of entries,

all the while
making sure
that each and every poem
is about hemorrhoids,
a hair on the tip of my nose,
bad breath
or my dog
taking a dump in the yard.

I know the poems
wont be what they want,
but they
just might be

precisely
what they
need.

So that’s it you ask? Poems about dog shit, nose hairs, and hemorrhoids? Why would we need all that? Why is this important? These are honest worthwhile questions, yet after a steady barrage of razor sharp lines you begin to realize you are being hit with nothing more than pure raw honest to god truth, all poetic pretense stripped away, life as it is to be dealt with in the everyday. With the massive stream of lies, embellishments, falsehoods, and fabrications constantly being fed to society via the media and our elected and non-elected officials how could we not need this? Why doesn’t more poetry do this? I’d venture to say that many poets today and wannabe poets really do try to do this. Ever since Bukowski crashed the scene nearly fifty years ago all manner of anti-establishment, anti-academia working class poets have found the guts and inspiration to drop the pretense and tell it real too. There are droves of these poets. The thing about it though is that all too many of them just don’t have it. Just what “it” is is something that is hard to nail down. It’s what others have called soul, but I’m not sure I’d even call it that. To use a common everyday phrase, it just is what it is. And like what’s been said of pornography, I can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it. Yamrus hits a nerve or a chord in you almost every time. That’s all he needs to do and he’s done his job. He doesn’t have to make you do any sort of mental gymnastics to get what it is he wants you to get. As long as something gets in your craw in some way and causes some sort of significant emotional or philosophical reaction then the job of the poem has been done. John Yamrus prefers to do his job with a simple frugality. Yamrus understands the reason why poetry isn’t so widely read and he’s doing his part to try and change that. He’s gotten real good at it by now. Far too many poets attempt to go about their jobs this way too, thinking that this is all so easy, but it’s not. Far too many just churn out vapid lines that are so soulless they can’t even elicit a sigh from the reader. Whereas Yamrus’ lines evoke powerful feelings that can send chills straight up your spinal column making your hair stand on end, as he does here:

object lesson;

when looking in
the mirror,

it’s often best
to overlook

the beginnings of
a sag under
the chin,

and wrinkles
under the
eyes.

it’s often best
to ignore
the gray
around the
temples,

and
the bloodshot eyes.

no,
what you
really have to
watch out for, is
that look of
fear,

and resignation.

even
terror.

it’ll
kill you
every time.

That’s powerful stuff. Much of the poetry in this book bravely deals with the starker realities of life and the everyday unwanted occurrences that just are, and just will have to be dealt with. One of my favorites “he” hits you like a punch of despair, leaving a deep bruise:

he

lay
back,

angry,

knowing
nothing
would
ever

really
light
her

fire.

These are poems about the aches and pains of aging, the lack of “grace/or gallantry” in death, the annoying or stupid things people say just “trying to make conversation”, other people’s arguments or complaints, Jehovah’s Witnesses at your door, and telemarketers on the phone. There’s plenty of humor here too but keeping with the over all tone of this body of work it’s often a wry humor. Yamrus’ straight forward narrative style gets to the point, rarely missing his mark. Some poems in “can’t stop now” do however miss the mark like this one that slipped through and left me scratching my head:

no

i
do
not
know
who
did
this
to
me.

However, the poems of “can’t stop now” that fail in their jobs do not upset the balance of this book. They are few and far between. This book has enough worthy weight to handle a rare dud.

In the second to the last poem in this book, “when you’ve been”, Yamrus speaks about the poem one hopes to write at the very end of it all: “something/that sums up/all you had to say/ a/good/exit line…/ maybe a joke,/and a tip of the hat/ before you left the stage.” Because every poem of Yamrus’ has a specific intention he ends this poem stating his hopes that this isn’t that last poem written at the end of it all. The title of this book lends itself well to the content. “can’t stop now” is a snapshot of a man with his thoughts who is on the cusp of turning sixty, getting up there but not quite done yet. The cover of the book pictures a 17th century depiction of a perpetual motion machine. A perfect symbol for the force behind the poetry within; producing more energy than it appears went in, something that might seemingly go on doing this indefinitely. John Yamrus knows it does all end at some point. Despite this knowledge of the finite he tells us in this book that he can’t yet “see” the end. John Yamrus can’t stop now because regardless of whether he can see the end or not, at sixty he’s a lot closer to the end than anyone is ever really ready for. And he makes it clear that he’s got more to say.

Lastly, with all the careful consideration I’ve given to “can’t stop now” I willingly admit many various struggles writing a review that can both inform its readers while at the same time entertain them with the standard literary pastiche of the contemporary critical review. My problem being that Yamrus’ poems are so obviously devoid of any sort of literary fluffery that it almost makes no sense to explain this book via ANY KIND of fluffery. One almost feels compelled to explain/critique this book like one of Yamrus’ poems would, or if you will; this review really should have been written something more like this…

“can’t stop now”

I recently came by this really good book of poetry from this guy named Yamrus

I thought it was like a lot of the good parts of a Bukowski book.

I really enjoy reading it while I’m taking a shit.

I hope you do too.

Since 1970 John Yamrus has published 21 books (19 volumes of poetry and 2 novels) as well as more than 1,300 poems in print magazines around the world.  Selections of his work have been taught at both the high school and university level, as well as having been translated into several languages including French, Swedish, Italian, Japanese and Romanian.

I Take Back the Sponge Cake by Loren Erdrich and Sierra Nelson Review

I Take Back the Sponge Cake: A Lyrical Choose-Your-Own-Adventure 

By Loren Erdrich and Sierra Nelson

Paperback, 64 pages
Poetry and Artwork
Rose Metal Press March 2012
ISBN: 978-0-9846166-4-0
$14.95

A Choose Your Own Adventure Book Review by Nicelle Davis
I Take Back the Sponge Cake is an illustrated lyrical choose-your-own-adventure collaboration between poet Sierra Nelson and visual artist Loren Erdrich. This book is amazing; I can’t say enough good things about this book that would capture the joy it inspires. The content of this book covers the spectrum of emotions, however it makes depths of fear and sadness approachable. This collection of images, poems, and choices is a real demonstration of how art can be infused with life—how art can become an extension of life.Because I am unable to be an objective observer of this book, I felt like it was essential for me to find others to give this book a proper review. As a homage to the work of Sierra Nelson and Loren Erdich, I have created a choose-your-own-adventure review.Please read Section I, if you would like The Uncensored Critics view of the book.Please read Section II, if you would like The Unsuspecting Critics view of the book.Please read Section III, if you would like The Critics as Audience view of the book.And please read all three sections of this review, if you are having a fun with this review.

I. The Uncensored Critics

To begin this review, I invited some of the most uncensored and hard to please critics I know (a team of grade school children).

These critics gathered to help me make costumes based on the illustrations found in, I Take Back the Sponge Cake. While we waited for the paper mache to dry, I read the book to these harsh critics. They really enjoyed the homophones. They chose “wait” over “weight” when it came to heartbreak, and that made all the difference in how their version of the story unraveled. When I asked them why they chose “wait” over “weight,” they explained that “their hearts are always light,” so a heavy heart sounded like a bunch of nonsense to them.

When I asked them how the book made them feel, they explained, “The eyes are watching you—always watching you—and you can’t get away. That is scary.” They also said that the pictures are “creepy and spooky, but that is okay because they like creepy and spooky pictures.”

My son admitted to being “confused and scared” by I take Back the Sponge Cake, but he said he would like for me to read it to them again.

II. The Unsuspecting Critics

After the glue and paint dried on our costumes, we took I Take Back the Sponge Cake to our local Sagebrush Café. There we met with a group of bright and kind college students.

We asked them if they would like us to read them a story. They were delighted to be dragged into the adventure. 

The illustrations were brought to life by our costumes. The college students’ childhoods where resurrected by the book’s format. Really, the only comments I could get from any of these critics was their infectious laughter intermixed with a chorus of “Whoa, no way!” Joy filled every crevasse of the coffee house by the time we finished the book.

III. The Critics as Audience

Next we took I Take Back the Sponge Cake to share with an open-mic poetry event. It was a mature audience, but once we began to read the book, everyone clapped and cheered like children. Even at the books most heart wrenching moments (and there are many places in this book that move me to tears) the audience chuckled at the cleverness of the words and images.

People came up after the performance and commented on “how interesting and different” the book seems. Yes, this is a different sort of poetry book, yet it keeps all the traditional aspects that make poetry magical. I Take Back the Sponge Cake is interesting because it layers even more magic on top of an already mystical medium.

 

If you love to feel joy, you should read I Take Back the Sponge Cake. (Costumes are optional, but highly recommended.)

 

Loren Erdrich (left) is a mixed-media visual artist working primarily in drawing, sculpture, performance, and video. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, both individually and as part of CultureLab Collective. A 2011 show at the Joan Cole Mitte Gallery in Texas featured her work alongside that of Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith, and Félix González-Torres. Loren completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, receiving a BA and BFA respectively. She received her MFA in 2007 from the Burren College of Art and the National University of Ireland. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Sierra Nelson’s (right) poems have appeared in CrazyhorsePoetry NorthwestCity Arts Magazine,Forklift OhioPainted Bride Quarterly, and DIAGRAM, among others. For over a decade she has collaboratively written and performed as co-founder of The Typing Explosion and the Vis-à-Vis Society, including at the 2003 Venice Biennale and on the Wave Books Poetry Bus Tour. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Washington and is a MacDowell fellow. She currently lives in Seattle, Washington.

Loren and Sierra continue to collaborate under the name Invisible Seeing Machine.