Sonofabitch Poems by R.L. Raymond (poems, 49 pages, PigeonBike Press)
Had Dashiel Hammet written verse, Ezra Pound been fonder of pulp fiction than the Greeks, and had the two decided to collaborate on a collection of poetry, they might have come up with something like Sonofabitch Poems. This short but hard-edged book has an undeniable swagger to it, the words spilling their blood and guts on the page. But the execution is undeniably slick with some academic ink, with a definite dip in the Classics.
Raymond rattles his lines off in short staccato bursts, like someone walking into a bar and emptying a clip from a Thompson gun into the décor – and a few chumps. The most straightforward of these, such as “Lucky Luke” (“the fist/hard and fast/nails him square/in the jaw”) or “Skallagrim” (“he was bald and beardless/and so goddamn tough”) are tavern dramas that come straight from the hip.
But Raymond also aims from the head. He occasionally will wrap his examinations of love, death and violence in more provocative latinate titles, like “Phenoptosis”. He also mines High Modernism for inspiration, such as in the fractured “After the third beer and not much to eat” that cobbles a character study together from a number of disparate scenes, voices, Beckett references and a little game of solitaire – like “The Wasteland” in miniature and served in a dirty glass. “I haven’t read Krapp’s Last Tape/in a while/and can you get me a beer?” one voice asks, neatly mixing the mind expanding and the brain damaging in a quick bit of wit.
The collection ends with the long poem “Gravedigger”, a work that neatly pulls together the poles of Raymond’s muse. It is tender and gritty, learned and raw. The heart of the narrative beats through an early image of a broken fence post: “a stub poking/from the ground/like a yellow tooth/in a rotten gum” which faces the title character, an average homeowner who is simply out to do some innocent yardwork. A subsequent series of modest but poignant neighborhood tragedies leads him to this role of accidental gravedigger, in both a literal and figurative sense. The poem is simple and blunt as the hammering iambs from which it is built and just as powerful in its final image contemplating the cold finality of death and inevitability of decay.
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