This Is Poetry Volume III: Poets of the West, Edited by Michele McDannold. Citizens for Decent Literature Press, 2017. 176 pages. Price $15.00. ISBN-10: 0692944818, ISBN-13: 978-0692944813.
“I saw the most beautiful girl,” says the speaker in Alexis Rhone Fancher’s poem “Lust at the Café Formosa,” one of the poems gathered in the new anthology This Is Poetry Volume III: Poets of the West, edited by Michele McDannold. The speaker is inside the Café Formosa in Los Angeles. “And / the best part was, you could see she didn’t know it. Yet. // She was maybe seventeen, on the brink, so ripe / sex exuded from her pores….” Alexis Rhone Fancher writes excellent narrative poems that are erotic and intellectually challenging at the same time. I’ve already had the pleasure of reviewing Alexis’s previous book, Enter Here.
I used to think, Seen one poetry anthology, seen ‘em all. But I was wrong. The anthology This Is Poetry Volume III: Poets of the West is far better than I had expected or hoped. What I’d expect from a poetry book entitled Poets of the West would be poetry that celebrates or explores Western U.S. culture, history, or themes, while, I hope, remaining relatable to my non-American Western self.
Like eating hot peppers, the experience of engaging with these–sophisticated—“Western”–poems is intense and powerful. One of the things I enjoy about the American West is the hot, spicy food of this region, often involving peppers. And I’m happy to report that This Is Poetry Volume III: Poets of the West is delightfully spicy—almost addictive and (like the foods I love so much) apt to make a person sweat or cry.
In these anthologized poems, we get unforgettable depictions of people both wealthy and poor, a rich cultural tapestry. Many of them are living multi-layered lives. Some of them enjoy life in the fast lane (after all, isn’t Hollywood located in the West?). In “You’re Like a Burnin Building” by Iris Berry, the speaker says to someone who surely is a Hollywood type:
you can tell
that you were drop dead gorgeous
at one time
and that women threw themselves at you
even if you were an asshole,
which I know you were….
…I had to visit you in jail
and… seeing you in prison blues
behind bulletproof glass
made it all make sense
It’s a good look for you
Yes, you’re like a burning building
that I have to run from….
but what a lovely way to burn…
For me, “what a lovely way to burn” evokes the late 1950s and early 1960s Los Angeles of Marilyn Monroe, whom we see perhaps lazing by the swimming pool, as described in this excerpt from “Women I’ve Loved” by Bill Gainer:
just sit by the
swimsuit loose, comfortable
hair messed—not caring
what she looked like
Yet another poet in the anthology, Ellaraine Locke, also speaks of the celebrity culture in the West:
Spun beside silicone breasts
Bleached blonds and MMWs
…garnished with conspicuous consumption and grams
Of high grade cocaine
….Subject to jeopardy in traffic jams
And Rodney King scenes
An alien in my own country
(“I Pledge Allegiance”)
For me, there is never a dull moment reading This Is Poetry Volume III: Poets of the West, and there are more excellent works in this anthology of Western poetry than I have space to mention. That’s because (at least according to these poems) anything can and does happen in the West. In Kevin Ridgeway’s poem “My Neighbor’s Back Yard,” the speaker says, “I hear the clash of broken glass… / I peek over the fence / and a waft of methamphetamine / smoke hits me in the face while / he continues to puff on a glass / pipe”—lovely neighbors. It’s a somewhat different scenario in “my uncle calls” by Richard Vargas: the nephew is looking back on the day when the nephew is a youngster and he accidently finds his uncle’s secret spoon, the bottom of which was blackened from being lighted to “cook” drugs, and that the boy gives to his aunt. She screams at the uncle in incomprehensible Spanish, “[S]lapp[ing] his [uncle’s] / face beet red while he tried to / hide the needle tracks on his arm.” And Laurel Ann Bogan writes matter-of-factly:
trapped in flowers
who dances below your window is the same
girl who pumped through shattered
memory to that place the heart knows
and knew everything
One of the spiciest poems in the anthology is the powerfully erotic “Severance” by Francesca Bell, where the speaker allows a man with a finger missing (“gone AWOL”) to touch her….
and pressed firmly against his touch
trying to figure
which part of him I felt–
whether it was a finger he still had
or the one he’d lost
that slipped inside me
As for the fate of the beautiful girl in Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “Lust at the Café Formosa,” the speaker watches as “a long, sauce slicked / noodle played with her lips and I longed to lick it off.” At this moment, the speaker says, “Elvis was crooning / ‘Don’t Be Cruel,’ but I knew she would be. / Girls like her can’t help it.”
What would really be cruel, though, is if a person denied him or herself the pleasure of clicking on the link to Amazon to check out This Is Poetry Volume III: Poets of the West. I highly recommend this book.
The anthology can be found on Amazon at this link:https://www.amazon.com/This-Poetry-III-Poets-West/dp/0692944818/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1523919810&sr=8-2&keywords=this+is+poetry+volume+III
© Eileen Murphy
Eileen Murphy lives 30 miles from Tampa with her husband and three dogs. She received her Masters degree from Columbia College, Chicago. She teaches literature/English at Polk State College in Lakeland, writes poetry, and has published book reviews in BLARB, Rain Taxi, Tinderbox, and a number of other journals. She is a staff writer for Los Angeles-based Cultural Weekly and a visual artist. Her website is Mishmurphy.com.