Robert Cooperman’s Saved by the Dead, Reviewed by Dan Cuddy

Saved by the Dead_FRONT_COVER.jpgRobert Cooperman, Saved by the Dead, Liquid Light Press, 2018, ISBN-10: 0998548731-3-1, 50 pages

Robert Cooperman, like Charles Rammelkamp, one of his good friends, belong to a school of narrative poetry that writes and designs books about particular subjects, historical or personal, or both. They produce entertaining as well as insightful works. In the last issue of LRR (Vol. 14 No. 2) I reviewed Rammelkamp’s Jack Tar’s Lady Parts; this issue I look at Cooperman’s book about The Grateful Dead. This book, as do all of his books, carries the stamp of his personality, which is imaginative, conversationally eloquent and humorous, unless the subject is tragic and deserves an appropriate gravitas, which he also possesses in his books about more traditionally historic subject matter, such as John Keats or Percy Bysshe Shelley, or crime in the 19th century American Old West. Though the Grateful Dead and their followers, the Deadheads, are becoming more historical as the years go by, their legend is still contemporary, still alive. They are a cultural icon. Cooperman in his book of poetry relates his almost religious fervor for the band. Religious? Yes, but he lights his votive lamp with humor, and with the grit of daily New York life. He grew up in Brooklyn. Many of his memories have that setting. Two of his poems mention the “Fillmore East” in their titles. He relates his personal experience of their music and shows as a member of the audience. He describes the reactions of people way back when and now, in the 21st century, to the shirts and hat that have the Dead symbols and logos. The band was and is more than just a producer of music. They are a cultural phenomenon, like the Rocky Horror Picture Show, though, of course, with their own individual aura.

I’m grateful the band’s entered the culture,
Though to watch the stare—blank as a turned
Off computer screen—on the bank teller
Who asked me about my Grateful Dead t-shirt,
You’d think they never existed:

The way memory works, or doesn’t,
In America where news is forgotten
In less than twenty-four hours,
And if something hasn’t happened
In the past two weeks, it might as well
Be ancient and irrelevant history.

She scrunched up her forehead at the magic—
To me—words, “The Grateful Dead,”
Shrugged, and counted out my bills.

The generations that experienced the Dead will carry that experience with them until the end of their lives. The later generations can experience some of the music on Youtube, CDs, streaming, etc. The geezers can relate the experience of their youth but the unique passion? Below is a poem about incongruous environments: a Dead concert and a dentist’s office. Humor, the cultural pulse, and reminiscence all intermingle in a God-awful place. (apologies to dentists everywhere).

Music at the Dentist’s Office

Before he numbs me up,
The periodontist asks,
“what music do you want?”
To take my mind off
The dreadful things
He’s about to do to me.

“The Grateful Dead.” I reply.

“Who are they?”
His young assistant demands,
And hands him a syringe
Longer than a Bowie blade.

“A jam band,” he explains,

And still she shrugs; I feel
Terminally old, but correct him,

The jam band,” then lecture
On the medieval folktale
Their name comes from:
Partly, because I’m a pedant;

But more, because as long
As I keep talking, I won’t
Have to cringe at the needle’s
Pinch, then suffer the crunch

And crack of the tooth he’ll yank:
A deep sea fisherman turning
A live, glorious marlin
Into a dead trophy,

While “Uncle John’s Band”
Wafts me back to the old Fillmore,
When I had all my teeth
And the night was painless
With music and dancing.

© Robert Cooperman and Dan Cuddy

Robert Cooperman has had 18 poetry collections published, most recently Their Wars; Saved by the Dead; Draft Board Blues, which was named one of Ten Great Reads by Colorado authors of 2017 by West Word Magazine. He lives in Denver with his wife Beth.

Dan Cuddy is currently an editor of the Loch Raven Review. He has been published in many small magazines , e.g, Antioch Review, Free State Review, Iguana ReviewThe Potomac, Connections, L’Allure des Mots, Broadkill Review, End of 83.  His book Handprint On The Window was published by Three Conditions Press.

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