richard lopez Reviews
This Here by Jim McCrary
(theenk Books, Palmyra, N.Y., 2015)
I find it difficult to be an impartial reviewer and critic of the work of Jim McCrary for he’s been a vital force in my life, as a man and as a poet, since the turn of the 21st Century. When I read the poetry of Jim McCrary, his vivid and spare language, I listen to the words. For Jim McCrary is, in the best sense of the phrase coined by Nicanor Parra, an anti-poet. The anti-poet’s words are all that are the case.
Still, I can point to the singular presence of Jim’s poetics in my life. This book is a summation, in short order, of a singular life in poetry, or, better still, anti-poetry. Filled with poetic sequences, and essays recounting in vividly fresh details of his encounters and friendships with his brothers and sisters in the art like Kathy Acker, William Burroughs, Ed Dorn, Gregory Corso, Hunter Thompson, and Paul Blackburn. What a life in poetry, indeed.
So I’ll call attention to the art of friendship found in this wonderful book because as Jim says in a poem, “what form any of this takes / here or there / becomes not only me.”
First off, the prose of the essays are like the lines in his poems: lean, spare, haunting, a little bellicose, and possessed with a deep, yet dry, sense of humor. These essays are the meat of the book, for me, because Jim has lived an extraordinary life, by any standard. For example, he’s a DIY poet, printing his own books and chapbooks long before DIY became the cri de coeur of early 21st century poets. Jim’s poetics explore a line of adventuring that staggers my mind. I remember a conversation we had about modes of travel. Both of us aint’ as young as we once were. We were talking about taking a berth on a freighter to cross the oceans. I understand that if you are willing to put up with discomfort you can book berths on commercial freighters. I told Jim, man at my age I prefer the minimum luxury of a motel room with a clean bed, and modern plumbing. Jim said, I think berthing on a freighter would be fun way to explore the world. I believe him. There is a photo of Jim floating on the internet of the anti-poet taking a nap deep in the pits of the Sonoma Raceway as people and race cars roar all around him.
But I mention friendships and here is one: Kathy Acker. In the essay “Kathy Acker has Cancer and Gregory Corso Wants to Come Visit” Jim details a part of his job as being the office manager for William S. Burroughs. A day in the office starts out like this:
I worked at WBC (William Burroughs Communication). Answered the phones,
etc. Acker had been in Lawrence before. She liked William. A lot. This time
I think it was some big deal up on campus that brought her to town. Can’t
remember. Maybe something to do with Nova Convention re-dux. Don’t recall.
Doesn’t matter, either. Here is what happened. I was downtown going to the
bank. Stepped into Terra Nova bookstore on Mass. Street for something. Heard
a voice coming from behind a computer terminal near the counter, “McCrary!’
It was Acker.
Jim invites Acker to dinner because it was “meatloaf’ and that was what William wanted. She was also suffering from terminal cancer. It was a memorable visit but even more special, to me, is the fact that McCrary was there to remember it, and write it. As Jim writes:
My treat to have been the fly on that wall as William and Kathy hung out. . . But
really, and trying not to be exceptional here, isn’t it best to just remember
something that was pleasing and not fuck it all up with details?
That’s a great day in the office, but it gets even better. Because in that same essay Jim regales us with his encounter with the great Beat poet Gregory Corso calling the office to arrange a visit too. Jim writes, “Wow, I love this job!” Corso doesn’t come to visit that time but Jim does meet him later at the funeral of Allen Ginsberg, and the anti-poet is star struck by the Beat poet as they share a couch. “Who wouldn’t recognize that mug, eh? Wow. Fuck me. But what, say something or not? Which way this time? He doesn’t have a clue who I am, and that’s okay I guess. I ain’t nobody anyway. . .”
Ah, but you are wrong Jim. Your poetics help anchor me to this earth.
There are other essays about hanging with the unjustly neglected Paul Blackburn, and Ed Dorn. About Dorn Jim tells us, “I do not ever recall mean or bitter but stoned and high and buzzed and bent but not mad just to agree that it was all pretty much fucked and you did what you did. I am not sure what we had, but it felt good and we could see eye to eye. He taught me more than I will ever know. What more to want.”
I say the same thing about Jim McCrary. He has taught me more than he will know about being a decent human being, and poet, and anti-poet. If ever a book read the reader this is just such a book. Because Jim says,
There is a lot of
GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE WAY going on just now
some here some there somewhere now
where you are
hear some advice from the humid
I can’t get the fuck out of the way but I sure as hell can heed some advice from the poet and anti-poet of Lawrence, KS. A poetics of place located in the center of the world where friendship is the rule and hanging with the poets is just another ordinary day at the office. Whether that means having beers with Emily Dickinson or scoring a poem with an epigraph by Anne Sexton who tells Jim, “[n]ext I pull the dream off and slam into the cement wall of the clumsy calendar I live in. . .” this is a catholic poetics spirited to the material world where we all live. Jim’s simple, spare, clean language is ordinary in the way a good night sleep is ordinary, or falling in love is ordinary, or have good sex is ordinary, or eating and drinking is ordinary. That which makes us human give hope. And Jim’s anti-poetry gives me hope, makes me glad to be alive. That is the highest praise I know.
richard lopez still lives in a bungalow in sac with his wife and son. he's currently co-editing with his brother in rhyme jonathan hayes an anthology of demotic haiku, and collaborating with the brilliant lars palm on a book of co-written poems. to see what else he's up to check out his blog, reallybadmovies.blogspot.com where richard frequently publishes poems, essays, rants and reviews of horror, hollywood, international, and b movies, and poetry.