Skip to main content

Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor, by Mike James, reviewed by Rusty Barnes

Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor
Mike James
80 pages
February 2019
$12.00
Reviewed by Rusty  Barnes

Mike James is a poet comfortable in several modes. I've read ghazals I liked and excellent free verse, and it wouldn't surprise me somewhere in his extensive catalog of thirteen books to find a formal mode too. He seems like a poet searching for things he hasn't done, and so we find his latest collection, Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor, from Blue Horse Press, tilting ahead into the prose poem, best of all, the often surreal prose poem of Tate and Simic and Edson. I have no ready store of terminology for this kind of poem, coming at it from the POV of someone who's enjoyed a surreal tone occasionally, though not in steady diet.

My introduction to the surreal was in the early work of Bill Knott, reading whom taught me many things, most important of which was that I was not a natural poet. The lyric is not my mode, the usual narratives sustain me, and the simile and other metaphor, those roots of poetry, do not come naturally to me. All of this is to come, finally, to Mike James the poet, who is indeed fluent in all of these things, and this book proves it.

The lyric is evident in poems like " Oh Daddy, Give Me a Quarter For the Time Machine." in a paean for the Weimar Republic, a nostalgic and sarcastic at the same turn in which the speaker invokes Marlene Dietrich,Walter Benjamin, Brecht and Weill, and of course, some unknown Sally Bowles "at a barstool listening to other people's dreams." A well-done piece.

Compare this with "The Mime," which comes a little later in the book, at the beginning of section III.

So he wanted a quiet place. He found a box with invisible walls. Crawled right in.

After a while, after silence became as empty as a shell and the sound of his breathing was the last thing he wanted to hear, he ran his palms along the walls, hoped and hoped for the exit that was there.

It  reminds me of Simic, though not as sly and perhaps more feeling, where a Simic poem can leave you cold. Other purveyors of the surreal come to mind, too, James Tate and Dean Young, though James charts his own course by staying grounded in the real then venturing beyond where with these others, the venturing itself seems the point. James's poems are the puncturing of the surrealist balloon in the end, while others are content to remain inflated, James always brings us back into the realm of the real.

The best poem in the  book is "The Films of Burt Reynolds" in which the speaker discusses Burt through the film ages and with his various paramours and wives only to close with the speaker's mother saying "she'd marry him if she just stopped by." Successful as  both nostalgia-trip and head-shaking laugh, it is exemplar of this strong collection: never hurried, always sure-footed, and well-worth the price of admission. Pick this one up.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Amy Holman

My mother made herself the deer with a broken leg  We saw a deer through the pane into someone else’s yard. The leg moved like a tube sock pinned to the hip  and half filled with sticks. I did not like to see it suffer, either. She was upset —my mother —that no one helped  the doe. Was it a mother, too? As if we were the first to observe the scene. We weren’t. All had been told to let her be. My mother had suffered a destruction  of the self, a divorce, and no one cared. That wasn’t true.  We were grown, on our own. I agree it was hard. Yet  in those moments of a cold November day, we watched  a doe, disabled and enduring, walk across a yard and eat  a hedge. I wish she could have seen it like that. Amy Holman is the author of the collection, Wrens Fly Through This Opened Window (Somondoco Press, 2010) and four chapbooks, including the prizewinning Wait for Me, I’m Gone (Dream Horse Press, 2005). Recent poems have been in or accepted by Blueline,

Beneath the Chickenshit Mormon Sun by Bruce Embree

I've posted this before, on a depressing day probably just like this one. This poem makes me feel better. That's all I have to say on that. It turned out worse than I thought The champion defended his title then Eldridge Cleaver came on to talk about his reasons for becoming a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Grandma and I damn near fell out of our chairs Went to town and got crazy drunk Came back home, called you long-distance after cruising and drooling Mainstreet again This is my last wish and love poem It is as follows Want to hold the wake at noon with plenty of acid and rum No friends and relatives Ghost music by Hendrix and the Byrds drowning all sound as you fuck me to dust beneath the chickenshit Mormon sun. Links:  http://www.limberlostpress.com/authors/161embree1.html

Maureen O'Leary

Grief (for J’uan) Maybe we turn into clouds of reefer Particulates coating the lungs of the people thinking about us First and secondhand smoke Clinging to the frizzing gray locs of the women mourning us Or maybe we are in the splashes of Hennessey Swirling in the bottoms of Styrofoam cups A bad burn in the throats of our brothers Something to remember us by On the way back up. Maybe we are still here. In the way the candles keep going out In the way they call out to God. If they only looked up they could see our eyes Shining through the branches and glittering through the haze Below the stars. Maureen O'Leary lives in Sacramento, California. Her work appears in Coffin Bell Journal, Bandit Fiction, The Horror Zine, Ariadne Magazine, and Sycamore Review. She is a graduate of Ashland MFA.