Alan Catlin is a very talented and prolific writer. He penned the 126 poems that comprise The Schenectady Chainsaw Massacre in just over two years – that’s an average of five poems per month for twenty-four months straight. Since 1984 he has published sixty books of poetry. And if that doesn’t leave you gasping for air and raising the white flag – over that same period of time his work has appeared in over 500 separate electronic and print publications. And it doesn’t end there – he has also garnered fifteen Pushcart nominations. Without even addressing issues of writing quality, one must sit back and marvel at Catlin’s persistence, productivity and passion. He is a man that was born to write.
Catlin is an astute, tireless observer with a remarkably developed technique. Like all poets, he draws his source material from his immediate environment and filters it through his person. As in “Sober”: “I gave up / drinking for / two weeks” // he said // “I just lost my / son-22 years / old – / he hung / himself” // I wasn’t sure / how that related // to his being / sober a whole / two weeks // other than / looking at him // the way he was / now for 22 years // was what made / that boy // die”. And again in “One for the Road, for Bill Bradt”: “You wanted someone / to slip a / Michelob into your // open coffin / for the long / journey to who //knew where- / it was sure / to be a hot // and thirsty place- / a dry road if you went / the way your // last two wives / had predicted – / I chickened //out at the last / minute-gave the beer / to the bartender // you’d spent the most / time with over / the years as I left // I never asked him / if he gave it to you / or not.” Again, a masterful use of words. Readers not familiar with Catlin’s work may find it interesting and relevant to learn he works as a bartender and draws significant material from the theater he observes and participates in during his day job – alcohol provides an endless pool for a poet’s musings.
In the 2001 interview with Catlin featured in Peter Magliocco’s ART:MAG 24(POB 70896, Las Vegas, NV 89170), Catlin says, “It’s my job to see things and tell people what I see in the manner most appropriate to the subject. The tone is mostly matter of fact, sometimes bitter, sometimes ironic, sometimes outright nasty, but easily discernable and readily identifiable as a Voice. And I must add a Voice, not necessarily mine in real life time.” Later in the same interview, Catlin explains a bit about his process, “I almost always write my poems out in long hand so I will be forced to rewrite for accuracy and precision later on. I rarely make major revisions. The initial draft of a poem is almost wholly formed before it is written. Looking back on my drafts for the last twenty years or so, I see that they are remarkably clean drafts. Major changes in word selection or order may be in the revision state, of typing them onto the computer. As the poem already has found its form before it is written and has a tried and true (for me) authorial voice built into its composition. All the poet has to do is choose the words to fit the subject! (As if it could really be that easy.)”
The Schenectady Chainsaw Massacre is presented in four sections. These establish a gentle progressive narrative cycle: Poster People for the Village of the Damned, Taxi Drivers of the Apocalypse, Dress Rehearsal for the Village of the Damned. Section Four, Bartending the Merchants of Death, focuses on the sights, sounds and clowns Catlin views from behind his bar while serving jive juice to the masses as he listens to their stories and shares their glories. As in “Whatever He Man”: “school he flunked / out of had a strange / definition for what / exactly went into / becoming the ultimate / Macho Stud he so / obviously wished he / could be-ordered an / extra-dry Vodka / Martini Up with extra olives he would slug / down in two gulps / further impressing / the regulars by slamming / his glass on the bar / & saying, ‘Now I’m / ready to teach!’ / A chorus of ‘Dude!’ following him out / the door was obviously / meant for someone else”.
There are even a few poems written in the voice of Ray Catina a Viet Nam Vet that Catlin created in the early 1980’s. Here is one titled “Coming Home 1968”: “No one had to ask, / “Where have you been?” // nights he broke free / from the compound/house, // parents secured, that is locked / in their bedroom, all lines // of communication severed, / illegal weapon set on lock // and load as he readied himself / for a solitary patrol dressed in // full camo and black face paint / using light of a quarter moon // to lead the way down Garfield / Place to the jungle on Ocean // Ave where Charlie was dug in, / sleeping, just four blocks // from home and half a world,/ half a lifetime away.”
Again, from the ART:MAG 24 interview, “Ray Catina came about fairly simply. I was frustrated with writing swaths, reams actually, of bar poems during one long summer between jobs. I was desperately trying to find something else to do with myself besides sling drinks and consume gallons of white wine, writing about people in bars from the point of view of an increasingly jaded barman. I must have spent a small fortune I didn’t have, on brown envelopes and postage, sending them out to every literary magazine on the face of the earth, to uniform disinterest and outright hostility.” Catlin goes on to say, “so, I decided, rather cynically, but consciously, to take all those poems about bars and set them somewhere else and change the details to fit the new environment. Voila – one cynical, anti-authoritarian, disenfranchised Vietnam vet.” With this newly created narrator, Catlin saw his submission acceptance rate catapult.
If you have never purchased an Alan Catlin book of poetry before, I strongly suggest you buy The Schenectady Chainsaw Massacre and add it to your library. It’s full, it’s loaded, and it’s a joy ride down and through the odd alleys, darkened taverns and magical synapses of a master writer. Alan, I hope you never run out of postage stamps, brown envelopes and writing paper. For what will you do with that head full of verse if you can’t write it out?
About the author:
Charles P. Ries lives and writes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His poetry, reviews and short stories have appeared in over 60 print and electronic publications. In 2003 his work was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2003 by Anthology, and he took top honors in both the 30th Annual Mississippi Valley Poetry Contest and the 2nd Annual Milwaukee.Com Poetry Contest. He had just completed work on a novel based on memory titled, The Fathers We Find: The Making of A Humble Pleasant Boy. He can be contacted at: [email protected] or www.bookthatpoet.com/poets/rieschar.html as well as www.pidjin.com/charles_ries.htm