Sunday, November 7, 2021

Richard Brautigan with a Switchblade: A Review of John Dorsey’s Poetry

by Nelson Gary:
The hoo-ya! energy of the here and now streams as John Dorsey’s lines in Triple Threat and Afterlife Karaoke. The insights in these books are sharp and funny. Dorsey is Richard Brautigan with a switchblade. The moves of Outlaw Poetics are here in terms of subversion, but as is frequently the case in this movement, there are elements of academia, the establishment. In terms of line arrangement, indentation, Vladimir Mayakovsky haunts a significant number of the lines of Triple Threat and Afterlife Karaoke. The variable foot of William Carlos Williams is certainly in step in these volumes. The well-read Alec Silverman told me he thought Dorsey’s poetry was reminiscent of Robert Frost’s. While he might be right in his analysis, I myself entirely disagree. Dorsey may be Richard Brautigan with a switchblade, but unlike Frost, he never chased his family around with an ax for making too much noise when he was writing. 
I know John a little, not well, but well enough to know he never did or would do anything like what Frost did. One thing that Dorsey and Frost share in common is they are all-in all the time (or as much possible) to write poetry. For all these luminous names mentioned, Dorsey’s poetry is most informed by Todd Moore and Charles Bukowski, the godfathers of present-day Outlaw Poetry. Moore, whose father ran with Dillinger, never earned an MFA in Creative Writing, but he spent his working life as a librarian and teacher; he had a life of books: God rest his soul with his guts to be read in his books. I was fortunate enough to write the essay about Moore for The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry.
I got to know Moore after he gave a glowing review of my award-winning Cinema. It was the first I had ever heard of Moore, The Chiron Review, and Mayakovsky (Todd mentioned him in writing about my work). Over the years, I developed a friendship with the Outlaw Poetry godfather, and we remained tight until he died. There is a considerable amount of material in Pharmacy Psalms and Half-Life Hymns—for Nothing (Mystic Boxing Commission), my upcoming book, about him. After ordering the Dorsey books from poet-publisher John Burroughs’ Crisis Chronicles Press, I communicated with Dorsey on a great many subjects. One of them was Todd Moore. He said that Moore was a “father figure” to him. Because I knew Moore well, what I can say, with neither doubt nor reservation, was that Todd would have loved these books by Dorsey, been proud of them as the godfather of present-day Outlaw Poetics.
There are more than a few standout poems in both of Dorsey’s volumes. “I Want to Murder the Moon” from Triple Threat is a howl against nature for allowing divinity to touch the skin in transcendental experiences. At the end of this poem, Dorsey remarks, “The night is slow / like bloody murder.” These lines inform much of the terrain both books cover. Dorsey writes about the slowness of life that can be violently stultifying internally relatively often in the pages of these volumes. There are lines that jump out at you with the humor of Brautigan, such as the following: “Alice was a finger fucking champion” in the poem “The Rabbit Hole Conspiracy.” “Jimi Hendrix of New Paltz, New York” conjures images of a hustler in a simultaneously cruel and empathic way: “Stars burn / for your albino eyed street hustle / like a Hudson Valley rent boy.” In these poems from Triple Threat, there are mentions of sex, violence, and drugs, even if the violence is only toward that “punk,” the moon, “for bringing divinity / on our skin.”
What I loved most about Afterlife Karaoke, which is dedicated to poet Jack Hirschman, is the “Trailer Park Songs” that unify the poem cycle and the elegy for Scott Wannberg, an Outlaw Poet I may have known even better than Todd Moore. I strongly recommend both these books of John Dorsey’s, mostly, of course, for the poetry, but also for the beautifully assembled layout and design by John Burroughs’ Crisis Chronicles Press. The front cover art of Afterlife Karaoke by Steven B. Smith is positively magnetic. What I love most about Dorsey’s work (and these are not the first books of his I’ve read), is its Nirvana-like energy, a band he refers to more than once in these volumes, and his ingenious black humor and and meaningful empathy about the “quiet desperation” (Thoreau) of the multitudes.
Buy John Dorsey's Afterlife Karaoke.
Buy John Dorsey's Triple Threat.
Buy both together and save:
Buy Both and Save
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Nelson Gary's works include XXX (Dance of the Iguana Press), Cinema (Sacred Beverage Press), A Wonderful Life in Our Lives: Sketches of a Honeymoon in Mexico (Low Profile Press), and Twin Volumes (Ethelrod Press). His Pharmacy Psalms and Half-Life Hymns—for Nothing will be published by Rose of Sharon Press in 2021. Gary's poems and prose have been published in numerous journals, magazines, anthologies, and newspapers, including The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry (Thunder's Mouth Press), Los Angeles Times, and Desert Sun. Gary, a former professional tennis player and instructor, was the Sports Editor at the Santa Monica Mirror. He read at Lollapalooza in 1994, had a residency with Ivan Neville's All-Star Band at The Mint, recorded his poetry with Elliott Smith ("Coast to Coast") on the latter's album From a Basement on the Hill. At Heroin Times, his journalism helped thousands, if not millions, of people addicted to opioids and their loved ones find recovery. Gary is a Beyond Baroque Fellow and has facilitated two writing workshops there. He has a bachelor's degree in English from California State University of Northridge and a master's degree in Forensic Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

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