Sid Gold Crooked Speech, Pond Road Press, Washington DC, 2018 , ISBN: 978-09719741-9-7 72 pages $18.00
Sid Gold’s book of poems “Crooked Speech” is actually two books. The first is a book of well-made traditional poems that any educated poetry-lover will enjoy. These poems are strikingly original and well-developed from first line to last line. Read this short one from the opening of the book.
They come out of the turn onto
The straightaway—one, two, then a pack
Faces lacquered with sweat
Short, even strides
Feet barely touching
Ground, gliding toward a distance
Always just beyond now
I don’t think William Carlo Williams could have written it better. Some of the other poems are short like this with the image central but there are other one-page longer poems that tell a story in a few well-chosen words. For instance, “Cancer Ward #2” from the last section of the book.
Blanketed to the neck,
His eyes glazed with pain,
Mr. Royster clenches his face
Into a fist as he struggles
To be the bearer of bad news.
They can’t cut, my friend,
He hisses, snitch-like.
They tell me it’s my liver.
One bed over, Mr. Vaughn,
Suddenly lively as a spring-driven toy,
Cackles until he’s short of breath.
Can’t cut me neither, he rasps
It’s deep down inside my head,
Chewing on my brain like a worm.
Nothing to add, he falls silent,
His stare empty as a mannequin’s,
The air between us thick as a shroud.
In the hallway, dinner plates
Clatter on their trays, the cheep,
Cheep of tiny metallic birds.
Brilliant, expressive poem. The subject matter of the well-made poems exhibit a great variety of settings, circumstances, and dramas. “The Knack” about lovers after a long absence of sharing a bed is a good read, as is “Lew the Barber.” All of these poem poems as Clarinda Harriss in a back cover blurb refers to them, are meticulously crafted.
The other book contained within the covers consists of prose poems. Their aesthetic is entirely different. Here is a short sample taken from one at random. The title, as all the titles of this type of work, are the last word written or in the last sentence of the piece. I‘ll only quote you a partial excerpt of “Roses” — but from the beginning, not the end.
The bell tower at Pisa began to lean before it was completed. I tell
you, I’ve been vilified by lies, protested Harkness. Wearing their
nonchalance like sidearms, the next generation comes surely on.
Taylor’s sheet music consisted of one page of tone clusters. Some
Kinds of kinks can never be worked out. The wrath of the people
Simmers darkly. A full Roman name was three-fold. Painted metal
Can be treated to give it the appearance of wear and age. Salvation
Or submission? Crisp or crux? Use four lanes, flashed the sign.
LaFollette strived to give the citizenry a more direct role in
Government. Earthy browns and reds were brightened by golds or
Yellows. The temperature always drops when you leave the room.
There is a whole second half of this prose poem with additional non-sequiturs.
What are they about? Everything and nothing. As I look at that second half, I think I stopped too soon. Let us continue a few more lines.
At 14 Sylvia despaired of evading the stares of the Fordham
Baldies lurking on the corner. Who built the dam in damnation?
Who played the part in partisan? With the exception of Cleopatra,
The Ptolemies refused to speak Egyptian. Jean Renoir believed his
Father the most normal of men. You’re funny, he told her. I’d like to
Be funny too. Which species of beetle troubles you the most? And
So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. As expected, Pat wrung
Things right. Quinces do not always add up to five. Slander begins
As a barely discernible breeze. Stenciling was an inexpensive way of
Bringing color & pattern into a home. A problem waiting to reveal
Itself. A catastrophe awaiting patiently to occur. Behavior, certainly,
But not the sort they’d had in mind. Alas, there are no longer roses.
There—you have the ending, but the ending of what? Not rational discourse, though sentences taken alone are certainly rational. There are little tidbits of obscure fact, as we learn Cleopatra, alone, spoke Egyptian in the Ptolemy dynasty. Is that true? What did the others speak? Where do I find out this information? Is it important? It is a curiosity to the curious. There is a philosophical question tersely put—Salvation or submission? A religious question or a political one? Who is Sylvia and who are the Fordham Baldies? From Wikipedia, I find out that they were a street gang from the Bronx in New York from the 1950s and ’60s. High school students everywhere feared them.
And then we have a verbal trick used often by the late Chris Toll, a local Baltimore, Maryland poet. Who built the dam in damnation? Interesting spotlight on an accident of language (I think) and a philosophical view about society, a quick judgment about a feeling people have about society and government. And look at the metaphor for slander that is slipped in this amorphous collection of words, phrases, sentences. And there are snippets of conversation transcribed as if only a few words were heard. What is their significance? Their meaning?
This formless form is about nothing and everything. Half the book is written in this style, which is placed as almost every other work in the book. The science, the history, the conversational phrases, the word games, the occasional metaphors give the reader a hint of the great expanse of phenomena and experience and the cataloging of human civilizations. A traditional poem is placed in between these assemblages. It is fascinating if you think about it. I think these prose poems are a great collection of prompts for aspiring writers. Curiosity may send a reader to Wikipedia or a particular book, perhaps Jean Renoir’s “Renoir, My Father.” The interspersed traditional poems keep a reader sane.
Are the prose poems pleasant to read? Clarinda Harriss in her book blurb invites readers to read this slim, though packed with content, book at one sitting. Maybe for the sound of words and sense of creative play of the author. For some readers that may be sufficient, but reading pages of non-sequiturs is difficult at best. I think these pieces should be excavated slowly, deliberately. I don’t know if everything can be traced to a source. The bits of conversation are often probably out of the author’s imagination or life. However, much of the history, the myth, the science can be tracked down—at least the surrounding scenarios. Perhaps a Sid Gold reference can spark other authors to create their own tale. Perhaps they will like an alchemist convert it into the wealth of a traditional poem.
If the book attracts interest, and it should, there is enough poetic wealth in the traditional poems. The prose poems are a bonus, but they are not traditional reads by any measure. You have to taste them as if hors d’oeuvres to stimulate your literary appetite. They aren’t sustaining meals by themselves. The traditional poems are.
© Sid Gold and Dan Cuddy
Sid Gold is the author of 3 previous books: Working Vocabulary; The Year of the Dog Throwers; Good With Oranges. He is a two-time recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award for Poetry. His work has been widely published. A native New Yorker, Gold lives in Hyattsville, Maryland.
Dan Cuddy is currently an editor of the Loch Raven Review. Most recently he has had poems published in the End of 83, Broadkill Review, Welter, the Twisted Vine Literary Journal, the Pangolin Review, Madness Muse Press, Horror Sleaze Trash, the Rats’s Ass Review, Roanoke Review.