I had to work hard to get through the thirty poems in Peter Magliocco’s fifth book of poetry entitled, This Junkyard Heaven. It is an intense, highly focused set of poems created in a very large and well-schooled mind. In a recent Books & Authors interview with Magliocco he notes no fewer then eighty-eight favorite writers, listing among them: Mailer, Kerouac, James Purdy, Boll, Grass, Sontag, Beckett, George Sand, Sartre, Camus, and Chekov. Magliocco’s literary interests are as rangy and challenging as the poems in this dense and intellectually rich work.
Here are two examples from This Junkyard Heaven. The first entitled; “the hallowed cave”: “what rings off the soft shell / old pain we hoped to keep inside / beyond clinical flesh-resurrections /medicare doesn’t pay for / or any stay in Hotel Heaven /depicted in a Bosch crowd scene /with computer-colored enhancement /your tan legs kick in a spam god’s brothel/ time won’t spasm between us /our stem cells in love’s test tube /a crystal bukkake the drunk drink /as a wonk midwife spirits our progeny/from lantern-lipped crevices.” And this one entitled; “nirvana”: the entrapment of fallen stars / brandishing what corporate insignia / time-tattered reliquary indisposes / our blood seeps / into silent rain // sometimes, in effigy of sleep / the morning’s a far-off vestibule / -cloistered by brightly colored paintings – / waiting for our entrance // while / keening for our presence / Blake’s tigers maul / throats of Vegan magicians / revealing what elixir of bodies // our bones whiter than pale rabbits / inside divine top hats, / cats spring born again / squealing with animal faith / intimidating our human tread // (waking from a dream / mother’s spindle / turns us around / to glimpse other planets / or the first time) // & crawl on all four again / away from manacled stock brokers / on the once sacred ground of Wall St. / a red sea of humanity skittering / into heaven’s / eternal // liquidation.”
I don’t know about you, but poems like these often leave my mind cross-eyed. I could only read three or four in one reading, and then had to let my mind rest before jumping in for more. I asked Magliocco about the complexity of his work. “What is intuitive and crafted appeals to me so far as writing poetry goes. I don’t feel my writing is “complex,” just not as superficial as much floating around the small press ethers. Perhaps the ideas in my poems are what strike you as complex. I certainly believe in examining intellectual & artistic ideas in poetry, whose meanings aren’t readily clear always while writing…and that’s one reason for writing them, since the ideas are also a search for meanings in our lives.” He went on to describe his process, “I don’t do a lot of extensive rewriting, but sometimes I take things from bad or failed old poems and merge them with incomplete newer work…a poetic transmigration of sorts. The things taken can be whole lines, a few words, and content totally rewritten in a different form. William Burroughs used to cut-up his writing and paste it into a totally different context, though the results verged on irrational dream associations sometimes. I try to insert the free-feel of what you refer to as “stream of consciousness” with more structured and thought-out lines. Our unconscious mind has to interact successfully on a daily basis with our conscious one: the two have to be brought into harmony, in art and life.”
I had two strong impressions come over me while I read Magliocco’s work. One, he has a signature ‘voice’ in the small press. It is the unique collision of academic and street poetry. Two, poetry (as displayed in Magliocco’s writing) is a great laboratory – it is an art form short enough, with boundaries wide enough to mirror many of the aspects we find in visual art. I asked him about his influences. “In the small press there is only Bukowski even though he’s been gone and I can’t think of two poets better, though I like Alan Catlin. I like e-zines like UNLIKELY STORIES and THE ORACULAR TREE. And Jose Saramago is the prose writer I like.”
Many of the poems in This Junkyard Heaven are highly visual rather than narrative. The total creates an impression rather than brings the reader to a conclusion. He frequently uses metaphors drawn from visual art and historic events. This made me wonder if Magliocco had been schooled in three dimensional arts and he said, “My frame of historical references isn’t that shockingly scholarly or erudite! I had some art history courses years ago at California State University at Northridge, where I picked up a B.A. in 2-dimensional art. I use things obviously from my educational baggage, from my own study too. The names you mention are chiefly from well-known artists and poets: Peter Paul Rubens painted his wife Helena, William Blake’s tygers burned bright; Apollinaire was a French poet who died fighting in WWI. But yeah, some readers probably will find those references in the range of limited curiosity only. “Words and metaphors” are what it’s all about, I’d read something by Nabokov to really have a work-out with the dictionary.”
Magliocco is also editor and publisher of the small press magazine ART:MAG (P.O. Box 70896, Las Vegas, NV 89170) which features many major voices in the small press. I asked him about ART:MAG, “I started it in 1985 by hand-lettering short poems with colored pens and pencils — it was a logical extension of creative ideas from art school days, I guess. Having discovered the small press, I wondered if I could merge art forms with literary content. Those issues were called “original series” because I included actual original bits and pieces of my sketchbook drawings in them…not mere copies. That changed over the years for a number of reasons, since nobody seemed thrilled by these experiments and the small press mag-sensibility is hard to change: many want the poem to take precedence, not the artwork.”
The title poem of this collection is a visual wonder, here is the opening stanza of “This Junkyard Heaven”: “(after a non-existent painting of Eva Hesse) // I have wanted to convert you to beauty / like an elemental force of nature / you can do little about, but must / learn to live with as a power / beyond our real reach , for we sketch just / its outline, its rainbow shimmer / across this junkyard heaven / called life with its cities / tenebrous & densely impacted / by flesh, metals, trees, earth ions / for all condemned lovers to cling to”.
As I read Magliocco’s collection, I most admired his depth of his mind. His writing is rich and complex. He shares his soul, his fears and passions in a unique collection of poetry – as good as any master painter could write.
Note: To find Books and Authors interview with Peter Magliocco please go to: http://www.booksandauthors.net/Interviews/PMagliocco.html)
About the author:
Charles P. Ries lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His narrative poems, short stories, interviews and poetry reviews have appeared in over one hundred print and electronic publications. He has received three Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing and most recently he read his poetry on National Public Radio’s Theme and Variations, a program that is broadcast over seventy NPR affiliates. He is the author of THE FATHERS WE FIND, a novel based on memory. Ries is also the author of five books of poetry — the most recent entitled, The Last Time which was just released by The Moon Press in Tucson, Arizona. He is the poetry editor for Word Riot (www.wordriot.org) and he is on the board of the Woodland Pattern Bookstore in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You may find additional samples of his work by going to: http://www.literarti.net/Ries/ and you may write him at [email protected]