Sunday, January 18, 2009

I've been reading David Trinidad's The Late Show and Yusef Komunyakaa's Warhorses, and have enjoyed them both immensely, but for different reasons.

Komunyakaa's Warhorses seems very timely given current national and international events, with an African American man about to be inaugurated president, and several senseless wars going on. It has three sections:

The first, Love in the Time of War, is a sonnet sequence exploring the crossroads of love and violence, betrayal and virtue. The next to last sonnet tells of a prisoner being tortured:

The one he loves, her name
died last night on his tongue.
To revive it, to take his mind off
the electric wire, he almost said,
There's a parrot in a blue house
that knows the password, a woman's name.

Heavy Metal, the second section has a mish-mash of poems about war in general, from the clay army unearthed in China, to Guernica to the Twin Towers. All of them very good.

But my favorite section was the last, Autobiography of My Alter Ego. It's a terrific long narrative sequence about a child growing up the "son of a cover artist." All written in broken cascading lines, the mix of love, sex, music, and redemption is a great tonic to the horrors of the first two sections.


The Late Show is the first book I have read of Trinidad's. I think he is definitely in the line of Frank O'Hara and Kenneth Koch and Allen Ginsberg, with his long rambling, confessional, chatty poems. I love his fascination with old movies and stars of the screen (very "Ave Maria"). There is a terrific pantoum about the rivalry between Betty Davis and Joan Crawford, and a poignant poem about staying up late to watch movies with his mother. "A Poet's Death" is a sonnet sequence (does *everybody* have to write at least one of these?) in honor of his friend Rachel Sherwood, who died in a car accident in 1979. There is also a fair amount of Barbie Doll fetish and famous poet gossip, especially in the long poem that ends the book, "A Poem Under the Influence" which is about 35 pages, with lines that run over the right margin and fill every page, and reads like an extended meditation on all the major themes of his life, including the color pink, collecting things, and a brutal rape that occurred when he was just coming out at the age of 18. It's heavy, but fascinating stuff, and I couldn't put it down until I was finished (though admit I had to skim some of the parts).

Ultimately, I think, both books are about memory. The Late Show relishes the highly personal recollections of one person, while Warhorses attempts to record a collective (in the case of the war poems) or imagined (as in the case of the Alter Ego poems) kind of memory. Either way you slice it, both books are trying to communicate something we all can relate to, that is, in the end, universal.

I highly recommend BOTH books.


Collin Kelley said...

The Late Show is on the top of my list at the moment.

Dustin Brookshire said...

Charlie Jensen wrote a review of THE LATE SHOW for my online magazine, LIMP WRIST.

Trinidad is all kinds of lovely talent.