If you travel the hundreds of print and electronic magazines that populate the small press, you will meet a handful of poets whose work finds its way to just about every venue there is for publication – A.D. Winans is one of them. These authors tend to be not only prolific, seemingly able to generate hundreds and hundreds of poems over a short period of time, but they are persistent. And if reputation is as much a function of ability as it is of longevity and persistence, then A.D. Winans has rightfully earned his high status as a small press poet.
As I read poems from The Wrong Side of Town, I found most to be content rich and stylistically flat or transparent. I asked Winans about this and why he didn’t use more metaphor, simile, or as a friend of mine once called, the secret-code-writing of poetry. He told me, “I think it was William Carlos Williams who encouraged poets to write in every day language. Poets I knew and hung out with like Jack Micheline and Charles Bukowski took this message to heart and so have I. My poems and my life are one and the same. They simply can’t be separated. There is no secret code. I consider myself a blue collar poet writing for the working class, in a language they speak.”
Winans direct language works well in describing the downtrodden and dispossessed who are often the subjects of his reflection, such as the city scene in, “Saturday Night Happenings”: “The air has the stale cigarette smell / Rancid as spoiled meat / The men in blue working the crime scene / Laying down yellow tape and chalk lines / That circle the corpse riddles with bullets / Swiss cheese street justice.” And again in, “Outside A Boarded-Down Jazz Club”: “an old man stands in the doorway /of an abandoned building /shoulders stooped, Jesus beard / ragged clothes, hands outstretched / begging for his supper / a tote of wine / his prayers unanswered / spittle on his chin / holes in his shoes / Walt Whitman’s forgotten child.”
Noting how prolific Winans has been over his career and the often flat one-and-done quality of his work. I asked him about his writing routine. “I don’t have a routine. I write whenever the inspiration hits me. However, I write more in the day hours than at night. I’m capable of producing large amounts of work in a short period of time, and then writing little or nothing for a relatively long period of time. I have only in the last few years done any rewriting of note.” He focuses on this very issue in his poem, “Choices”: “I know this academic poet / who spends months editing / a single poem / wants each line to be as tight / as a young virgin’s ass / chop chop chop is his motto / although I think / he borrowed that line / from Ezra Pound / Only trouble is / he never gets invited to read / never has enough poems / Last I heard / he got himself a job teaching /bonehead English / at a small Midwestern college / assisting the football coach / specializing in tight ends.”
In describing his work stylistically and thematically he says, “Some people have called me a street poet or identify me as a meat poet. I don’t like labels. I have been writing for more than forty years, and my style continues to evolve. The subject matter ranges from social commentary to humor, haiku, and even surrealism, but the form and technique I use is not always the same.” A bit later, Winans noted that, “The late William Wantling and Jack Micheline influenced me greatly. Wantling showed me that some things in life can’t be clothed in metaphor, simile, or inner rhyme. The late Jack Micheline was the closest thing I had to a mentor, and his love for the downtrodden and the dispossessed is a common theme in my own work.”
The Wrong Side of the Street was the first in Cross-Cultural Communications, American- Poets-in-Russian-Translation Series. Winans told me, “Jack Micheline’s son, Vince Silvaer, wrote and said that Aleksey Dayen wanted to translate some of Jack’s work into Russian and wanted to know if I had heard of Aleksey. I subsequently wrote Aleksey, and sent him some of my own poems, which he later translated into Russian, for publication in a few Russian magazines. He later introduced me to Stanley Barkan, the publisher of Cross-Cultural Communications, and the rest is history.”
This collection also focuses on personal loss, the end of love, and Winan’s unhappy childhood as in, “Family Man”: “Conceived in the womb of an indifferent marriage / I seemed to remind you of the anger the failures / Until childhood became a series of gothic nightmares / An 18-year sentence at the Alamo / All eyes fixed bayonets the tongue a sharp dagger / That awful black leather strap that chased me / Around the dinner table with its sadistic whisper /Caressing the air and me a constant reminder / Of a Depression Era marriage that took you / From your world of music into a life you wore / Like ill-conceived clothes on a hunchback / No room for me in your life no room for a pacifist/ I tried writing blood-stained poems / To make you proud of me / Joined the military became a government worker / Tried every trick there was / To erase the scars that you left / Like a branding iron inside my heart.”
I asked him about the reflective nature of this collection of poems, “The themes I write about have always been important to me; however, much of my past was not written until recent years. I didn’t have a happy childhood, and it took me thirty years after my father’s death and several years after my mother’s death, before I was able to sit down and write SCAR TI SSUE. And a book I have yet to send out for publication (This Land Is Not My Land) about my military days in Panama took me over forty years to write, so painful were many of the experiences.”
As I read these poems a second and third time, I began to feel a deep sense of compassion for this writer toward the subjects of his poetry. And I realized that this is the talent of great writers – to illuminate in words a moment so completely that it becomes transcendent making the poetic observation not just owned by the author, but everyone who reads his work. The Wrong Side of Town is a wonderful collection of poems – a complete and compelling picture of one of the small presses most prolific, talented, and searching poets.
This review first appeared in the April 2005 Issue of Pedestal Magazine
About the author: Charles P. Ries lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His narrative poems, short stories and poetry reviews have appeared in over ninety print and electronic publications. He has received three Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing. Most recently he has read his poetry on National Public Radio’s Theme and Variations, a program broadcast over seventy NPR affiliates. He is on the board of the Woodland Pattern Bookstore in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You may find samples of his work by going to: http://www.literarti.net/Ries/