Sunday, April 06, 2008

Driving with Dante: Poems by Brian Michael Tracy

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

Paperback: 44 pages
Publisher: Midnight Tea Publishing, 2007
Price: $10.00
ISBN-10: 097854157X
ISBN-13: 978-0978541576

When I read the first poems of this slim collection of poetry, I shrugged. Nothing new here. The lead poem, "A Night at the Soliloquy," was a cutesy play on word structure as characters in a bar and a writer working through his writer's block. The next few poems were no better: waves playing "like brother and sister," a clock that moves too fast, like a fist holding water, a cat purring at a rainy window, a return home matched against autumn leaves rotting away. Oh, it's been done. Is there anything new here?

And then, suddenly, there was. I kept reading, and was rewarded for my efforts. I don't know why the turn into deeper levels of nuance, and fresher poetic moments took place. Perhaps the poet ordered these chronologically and the first were the oldest? Growth? I cannot say, but first impressions are not always correct, or rather, not always all encompassing. Poet Brian Michael Tracy can... poetize! It was somewhere around the poem, "Jerome," dedicated to Jerry Garcia, that I felt the turn in quality. I wasn't keen on the awkward "What say you?" repetition at the beginning of each stanza, but the rest of the poem works.

"What say you - we ride to the cliffs above the harbor

To the unmarked trail between days?

There the muse has poured the blue liquid of eternal tones

Into a guitar.

Pick it up.

Bring it to your ear.

Strum it, it is light.

Strum it again, it is night.

Strum it again and the unmarked trail is gone;

So too the horses."

Yeah, I like that, it works, and I can even start to hear a little of Garcia strumming as I read it. I wish the poet wouldn't capitalize each line when it is still part of the same sentence - it ever so slightly disrupts the nice flow - and I would suggest some edits on the use of punctuation, which can be a part of the poem in its own right. But he says something old in a new way, and rhyme, which should be used with utmost caution in contemporary poetry, is used well here. I like "the unmarked trail between days." It's a simple metaphor that comes close to cliche, but just in time, escapes into that crucial a-ha moment in good poetry. Well done!

From thereon out, it is as if Tracy hits his stride. Each following poem is a treat. In "Apollo's Wind,"

"Days were sliced and swallowed

like watermelon at the beach..."

and the next poem, "Physics," has me humming in pleasure. Again, he walks close to the line of cliché, writing about love and time and life being too short... but then, hurrah, escapes that tangle and finds his way, fresh and clear and even profound.

"Midnight Ruby" is a short, simple poem that enchants me. A woman's lipstick is used to very simply illustrate a moment of seduction. Tracy uses a small spot of color to bring to us the immense and lovely world of sensuality, so often lost in today's graphic overtones, dulling the senses.

"The Letters I Still Keep" is a powerful tribute to a fallen soldier. These sorts of poems so often veer into sentimentality, but Tracy gets it right. "The Cobbler" uses the lost art of repairing shoes in our modern day of discard, but Tracy brings it back to life to explore life - in those who wore these old shoes.

"Visions of Saint George" delves into history and battle, the style matching the tone, and delivers more powerful lines and messages.

Finally, the title poem, "Driving with Dante," concludes the collection, and finishes well, with two men traveling the road to discover something of themselves and all men, looking into the past and into the future. I look forward to reading more of this poet's work as he continues to develop his art.