EASY EDEN by Micah Ballard and Patrick James Dunagan
(PUSH, San Francisco, 2009)
EASY EDEN is a well-wrought collaborative chapbook created by two poets who’ve long been creating fabulous poems: Micah Ballard and Patrick James Dunagan. In EASY EDEN, the language is supple and shines. Say, the first poem “In the Seacoast States” which opens magnificently per the poem as well as for the entire collection:
I go after you like whiskey
refusing to hear your no, your body
a splash of shine
I go after without wishing
I grab after your disappearing heels
because I must remember
I go after blankets of time
drawn around you, your release,
I go after bee-like, zipping along
‘til there is a secret, a dry tomb
and no one hears the complaint,
wrecking only an interior drone
silent outside your knowledge
and you are not aware
The writing comes off as effortless—in part, the seeming ease is what I consider Eden-like about the poems in this collection. And I believe this nifty result occurs in large part due to both poets’ strength in musicality. Say, “In the Seacoast States" which continues and ends with
I go after my own mountains,
my own affairs
compelling state of habits
playing at my nerves,
I go after your closed eyes,
ears and mind, blinded
I go after what I must, driven,
your lack of books, paintings, music
I am alone, it is my pride
snd when you choose turn to look
it is without shine.
Intelligence shines. These poems reveal knowledge, while not saying/showing exactly/totally what they know. Say, from “These Vacancies Fade Over Time”
I once awoke in a room I the asylum of the mausoleum where the poet X had been confined. I remember reaching it in the late afternoon and being admitted to the grounds by a nun. Sometimes I was taken thru several long, cellar-like halls, painted yellow, with low cell doors along each side. There were other corridors and cellular rooms but those housed large unrelated groups. I believe there was paint peeling everywhere and the floors were of stone. The view from my window allowed me to watch new arrivals and it opened directly onto the kitchen garden. Beyond it stretched open fields and rows of cypresses that stood at the left. It always grew increasingly dark but I can still see the black cypresses and shaven fields. It was a low, Netherlands-like country and only the fields have retained their faded color, miles of marsh grass lit by a brilliant horizontal light. I suffered constantly from extreme dizziness and was dressed in an unbecoming costume of gray cotton. They had my hair cut close but I tried to look different form the rest, leaving the top button of my shirt undone and keeping my sleeves rolled halfway between wrist and elbow—something a little casual and Byronic for the occasion. I hoped to perfect a mechanical neatness, my carriage and facial expression influenced by the same motive. When awake I thought of attracting tot myself an intimate friend, whom I could influence deeply. He would be of great assistance in establishing myself an authority, recognized but unofficial.
which is not unlike other poems in seducing the reader to spend time with them, wondering what is lurking behind and in between the words. There is a story, but its narrative or significance remain spaces whose contents must rely on the readers’ imaginations.
The poems result from collaboration, but no individual author stands out except for Author #3, that presence that is more than the sum of 1 + 1, of Ballard + Dunagan. This is a feat when I do agree that in many, “These poems are dictated” (“Notes on Channeling”). (By the way, I was writing this review at the kitchen table where my son Michael was eating his breakfast. He noticed the chap on the table and asked me about it. So I explained that EASY EDEN is a collection of poems written by two poets. And in attempting to explain collaboration, I said that perhaps the two poets wrote alternating lines, alternating words, alternating stanzas, or that one poet might have come up with a title while the other wrote the poem’s text—the point being that it’s not clear from writing the poems how the collaborations unfolded, and that’s all to the benefit of the poems for generating that dictating voice that’s both of but also not just of the two poets.)
Many of the poems seem—nay, are!—heightened in ways welcome for eliciting enjoyment. Say, this excerpt from “How Cool It is”
Leaving the top button
undone, slightly Byronic
in memory all that I
have in mind goes straight to
this one-time happening:
you behind the wheel while
the authority I desire
slips back in that drink
nestled between the seats
beside the cigarettes
an ever open road, the wind
Have I mentioned the robustness of energy? Say, these from “From The French”
I missed my bus. I blame you. I missed my train. I blame you. I missed you.
You son of a bitch. This isn’t serious, oen of your fucking astute observations.
The only thing I have to hold, saying “pass on by with your narcotics.”
Go taunt a stranger. Let me be. Allow some room for sorrow to enter me.
I am in a state. I write everything and anything. I believe I am writing you.
What a silly fuck. Poor me. Table all busted up. What a joke.
Your pencil, or is it a quill? runneth dry.
Women, I know, shouldn’t write. But fuck you. You didn’t even try.
"Women...shouldn't write"? There's plenty of surprises like that in the writing (or, earlier, "I go after you like whiskey" ("In the Seacoast States")), all to the good for piquing interest and enervating the poems.
Anyway, I could go on but in a faux conclusion, the poems are by poets who write without the callowness of youth (not to say the poets are old—I wouldn’t know…and some old poets still write, uh, callowly…at times). And therein lies the genius-ending of a poem. That, after all the luminous poems penned, the collection ends with this movingly pensive
dozing thru the day
they show up later
from the blotter.
lasts for days
how we fail remember
a determined will
to match the flame.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere to reviews of her newest book THE THORN ROSARY: Selected Prose Poems & New (1998-2010) over at Litter Magazine and at Tributary. The book's "Afterword" essay by Joi Barrios is also newly-available online at OurOwnVoice. If these reviews get you curious, please note that its publisher Marsh Hawk Press is supporting a fundraiser for Haiti relief by giving a free copy if you order at least $15 worth of booklets through the Hay(na)ku for Haiti fundraiser; as THE THORN ROSARY is priced retail at $19.95, this is one of the best bargains in the poetry world, even as it helps out with a Haiti fundraiser.