resurrection song: A READING

 

a review of ‘Resurrection Song’ by George Wallace, Roadside Press, 2023

SO, ‘To make a start, out of particulars…[i]’ as in the roll of stanzas that is Paterson, where do I begin?

Where do I begin with a swirling glass of the blood of a poet – port that is – and this: George Wallace’s latest, Resurrection Song?

I start with outside in the evening. Golden hour they call it.

Who will we resurrect?

Whitman of course. Allen perhaps?

Death, here at my side, what songs shall we sing?

‘Poetry,’ she concedes. ‘Poetry – song of the twilight night. Song of the soul.’

The port like warm liquid iron. Yes, blood of a kind.

Here I am, Albion-side, sat under the shade of Forest of Dean pine & wise old oaks. In my hands these leaves stare at me having blown in Stateside.

Wallace pages, lines. Waves of lines. Just so. Like Whitman’s ‘inbound urge and urge of waves. / Seeking the shores forever.[ii]’ Lines and leaves that seek loving readers, listeners of life. Come! Hear this: a fine workman’s poetry as if through a shell, the sea, you, you wandering beachcombers of the universe.

So, to it then, Death.

We climb aboard his soft rolling thunder.

‘Let’s go,’ says my heart. Warmed with booze.

‘Freight Train’ is first. It rattles real. Who has slept in these boxcars before us? What readers will curl under this night of reading beside us?

George Wallace, in a world starved of compassion, asks for all, asks for every single one of us out here alone: ‘love me now, the weight of the world is upon us[iii]’ and calls out, reaching, to the place where ‘forgiveness {is} divine[iv]’.

Some destination, for sure.

I want in.

This is how we’ll roll, then. ‘What if the darkness ignored its own reflection[v]’ or, later (pg.216), he’ll ask ‘How to measure the true depth / of heaven on earth?[vi]

Pages that pause. Lines that deservingly demand big gulp of red. Demand reflection, as the poet’s scrawling stanzas sink thru the life of moment and meaning.

Fool. This is just the first page! Stop yr drunken lingering. You’re holding up the train.

On then.

Now we’re ‘Shovelling In The Ruins[vii]’, digging into psyche – like the barfly mind of Henry Chinaski sat perhaps at the edge of his lonely bed in the neon night, morose. I can see the arch of his sad back and, squinting, looking longingly into the darkness of an empty bottle. Wallace conjures easily such word thought images of mind. Can you hear them? Almost as Bukowski monologue. Short lines, outlaw poetics. Easy on the ear. Workmanlike. To the core. Honest.

‘For All We Know This Is Paradise[viii]’.

Ah, fuck you, George. With your lines of tormenting greatness.

I’m jealous. Of course, I want to scrawl like this.

Nothing to do but wash down the envy. Reach for the bottle again. Refill. Turn the page, another page another drink done.

If a writer wants to write like this then the writer must write, must read. Read, re-read and read. And yet, live. These poets, these next gen Beats: Wallace, Whitehead and Mimi German to name but three clothe us in new stanzas of raw finery. They’re the new grand hoodlums of song. We divine our own verse from lines and moments. Wear heavy coats made of rain and stars. As Beckett opened The End, ‘They clothed me and gave me money.[ix]’ In this case I fantasise clothes being the songs of these poets and the money, I contest, the strange currency of inspiration. Not money at all. Money is useless. Inspiration and truth the only currency of the real writers.

Death pulls her fine pocket watch, shows how moments slip by.

Ah, I’m sick of port. Drinking it only for nostalgia’s sake. Remember? Memories of staring out the window of first apartment, listening to ‘Trane (bless you in ‘Paradise Lost’, pg.193), Bird, George Harrison and the poor boy – Nick Drake. Back then, days of bachelorhood. Lightning of youth still in my veins.

I reach for uncomplicated beer. Flip the page. ‘Picasso’s Cup’ and the ‘terrible dusk of Montparnasse[x]’…

…and on, soul explorer. Each poem a mirror of the self of a kind. Wallace pours the silver, uses form to shape the frame. And then he turns on the light. ‘The Kiss’. The title shared a 1945 poem by Paul Eluard (‘Sweet delectable you float / Past your body’s boundaries / And you do not lose your way[xi]’). God, how I loved that poem back then. But here, see these new words of a man who has tasted more than one magical heaven kiss. Entrance us w/traces those touch echoes of Neruda, mysticism of Borges. Wallace’s boy painted in the fragile courage of Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel (Les quatre cents coups, 1959).

By the time you get to ‘A Wild Bird Caged In An Old Man’s Ribs’ (pg. 11), you realise there’s a long way to go. He can’t possibly keep this up. But, Sisyphus of stanzas, Wallace rolls that stone, leaving a trail of wonderful flowers across 244 white leaves.

You should drink to a great poem.

So I do.

Now drink drunk in the evening as it eases along the sky. My nurse partner, she’s working late and here I am getting buzzed to port & poetry as the bats begin their darting. As birds begin to die down, lie down. Except for the Martins who glide with just enough evening left.

‘In A Town Called Hope’ (pg.25) wouldn’t be out of place in a Bukowski collection. Nor would ‘Clumsy In Paradise’ (pg. 40), ‘Valentine Of The Untamed Heart’ (pg.217) or others here. But this ain’t derivative drivel. I’ve seen much of that. No, here’s someone who knows how to trim, edit, keep it tight. And I mean Mingus-tight; rhythm of the flow, the read, punctuated w/keen solos that really fly. A writer w/concluding lines that wrap up the whole song, not fading away, but echoing. As all good art and love should.

I see it. An array of word islands w/soft hills. Or, on some pages, hard-sided mountains of stanzas. An archipelago of hopes, images, disappointments… whole fields and valleys of verdant wandering, lakes of loneliness, rivers running alive bubbling fresh w/beautylines. Letters like blades of black grass, blades that coalesce into words, whole lines of sorry sorrow and fugitive anger. Streets, sidewalks and cities. Laments for an America as it could be should be. And still room for the twilight dying sun of American nostalgia or the dark that sometimes lives there[xii].

Jesus. ‘Now We Are Married’ (pg.50).

Another mirror: ‘The Poet’ (pg.71). Taste its knowing, fellow scrawlers of the heart.

Or page 88 and ‘Los Ebanos Crossing’, like a whole tanned Steinbeck novel distilled.

The cat out here with me sits prim in this Albion evening sun that is dying from my eyes. She slow blinks at me, content. And, w/drinkbuzz firing now, the world is fine. For a while. Pages roll, like the ‘composite dandelion that changes its face overnight[xiii]’. A multiplicity. 247 pages these outlaw hymns.

Transported into the insect heat of ‘Cuchitril’ (pg.104), I love this journey around one man’s prolific heart of mind. A mind that calls to Rimbaud.  California. Chet Baker and the ‘artless laughter[xiv]’ of first love. Zapatistas. A lament for Jack Hirschman (pg.29). Political pomes as they should be: like barricades, arresting bulwarks of all that despises our progressive arms that reach out to those who know injustice every day. And then Lorca. ‘Trane. Or – I smile – when was the last time you read a poem that referenced Pasolini? (pg.107).

And, of course, those touches of Whitman (‘All Rivers Sing The Same Song’, pg.45; ‘Holy Lands’, pg.48 or the title poem just a few). Whitman who sang. Sang of America and its real people. Where ‘loyalty counts[xv]’. Walt Whitman. Who gave America his own leaves, blown over war-ravaged states. Over bodies of uniformed skeletons of the revolution that lie there returning to earth. These States that now bow down to the war on its own people. The hollow, cold consumer war. This monetised cultural technodata-information image war. This is the beat for the Beats of today. It’s easy to rage. But to rage real, that’s something else. Wallace gets it.

Some pomes here open the sadness of the world. The writer taking us where dreams die. ‘Civilization Rise and Fall’ (with its meter like Ferlinghetti’s ‘Autobiography’ – maybe that’s just the way I read it – this pome a friend beside those friends that make up A Coney Island of the Mind), against which we might place other Ferlinghetti-like songs like ‘All The Animal Graces’ (pg.34), ‘Red Poppies And All The White Camomile (pg.138), ‘Life In The Cozy-Ozy’ (pg.200).

This collection is a credit to the next gen Beats, post-Beats, outlaw poets – whatever you gather them up by, and anyway, all too rarely recognised for their humanity. Too often the links back to Whitman overlooked. All that love. Here it is. Come taste it.

How fitting, how necessary that this poet in residence of the Walt Whitman Birthplace brings forth his new songs of America. His new volley of words, spat into the throng of Trumpland America.

America, what have you become? ‘Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb[xvi]Howled Allen.

Now another fantasy as I imagine Wallace reading his ‘Party With The Animals’ (pg. 168) in a half-filled club, this time his words recall Steven Jesse Bernstein. And then the ‘Blackberries’ (pg. 176) bring us right back around to WCW. Or, ‘Hard Apples’ (pg. 228) a perhaps song by Leonard Cohen left in Suzanne’s beside cabinet. These fantasies of welcome heroes that Wallace can convincingly possess w/words all his own.

I stand up. Stretch.

So much magnificence is intoxicating.

Only then do I notice that Death has gone. She finds poets too easy to cull. Too beautiful and lonely.

So, it’s just me and the night. And the words. This collection. Like when Wallace wrote ‘unlatch the barn door and set all the animals free…[xvii]

Evening has become night.

A night of stars.

They have come. I guess we knew they would.

But sometimes the doubt holds.

Anyway, they’re here. And in their bright dying and falling they sing ‘come take yr fill of these pages, this helping of soul food.’ And I say join us, dear readers, friends, join us in this harvest of images, truth & pain, loneliness & beauty. Scrape from the Resurrection Song compulsion and dreams, and glimpse with me these rages of heart. For, in doing so, together we might crown Wallace one of Whitman’s Wild Children[xviii].


[i]  Paterson by William Carlos Williams (from the Preface of the 1963 text; I am using Penguin’s 1983 paperback edition, pg.3)

[ii] ‘From Montauk Point’ (Sands at Seventy) by Walt Whitman from November Boughs (1888, but a fine and cheap 2014 Dover Thrift edition, pg.16)

[iii] ‘Freight Train’ by George Wallace from Resurrection Song (Roadside Press, 2023, pg.1)

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] ‘Heavenly Street Of Unreal Dreams’ by George Wallace from Resurrection Song (Roadside Press, 2023, pg.216)

[vii] Title of the second poem in the George’s collection Resurrection Song (Roadside Press, 2023, pg.2)

[viii] Title of the third poem in the George’s collection Resurrection Song (Roadside Press, 2023, pg.4)

[ix] ‘The End’ by Samuel Beckett from No’s Knife: collected shorter prose 1945-1966 (Calder & Boyers, 1967, pg.43)

[x] ‘Picasso’s Cup’ by George Wallace from Resurrection Song (Roadside Press, 2023, pg.5)

[xi] ‘The Kiss’ by Paul Eluard (translated from the French by Gilbert Bowen) from Selected Poems (John Calder, 1987, pg.115)

[xii] As in ‘Jimmy’ by George Wallace from Resurrection Song (Roadside Press, 2023, pg.27)

[xiii] Paterson by William Carlos Williams (1963 text, Penguin 1983 edition, pg.189)

[xiv] ‘The Ice Blue Root of Nothingness’ by George Wallace from Resurrection Song (Roadside Press, 2023, pg.124)

[xv] ‘Pete’ by George Wallace from Resurrection Song (Roadside Press, 2023, pg.24)

[xvi] ‘America’ by Allen Ginsberg from Howl (City Lights 1956, 50th edition – 1993, pg.39)

[xvii] From ‘Dance Like A Thief’ by George Wallace from Resurrection Song (Roadside Press, 2023, pg.152)

[xviii] Tiitle of Neeli Cherkovki’s introductory portrait of 12 Whitman-spirited poets (Allen Ginsberg, Harold Norse, John Wieners, Philip Lamantia, Bob Kaufman, William Everson, Gregory Corso, James Broughton, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Charles Bukowski, Michael McClure and Jack Micheline) (1988/99, Steerforth Press, 1999 edition)

 



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