The first time I ever heard of The Poet Spiel was upon picking up a tiny book he made with one poem in it, laid across a table of business cards and event notices at an art opening. The beautiful and aching poem, about a lost companion, I shamefully lost in a move. But a year or so later I was able to meet Spiel in person, and get to know him not only an poet, but an artist. (He's a member of the Pueblo art group 38 Degrees Latitude.)
Tonight, you can do the same. From 5 to 7 at Poor Richard's (320 N. Tejon St.), Spiel will sign copies of his newest book of poetry, barely breathing, which features cover art created by Spiel and fellow artist (and 38 Degrees member) Justin Reddick.
Barely breathing isn't an easy read. Spiel's words can be jagged and harsh, his images frightening and controversial. He writes of paranoid suburban culture, hidden homosexual encounters and a struggle for acceptance in an embittered world. But I'm always most impressed by the way he manages rhymes and cadence with such remarkable deftness. Here were some of my favorite passages:
nothing like a house burning
to draw opposing neighbors
door to door
eager to share
what they don't
These are two are excerpts from longer poems:
i'm so distracted counting the hickeys on the cashier's necks
i have a hard time choosing my burger combo — especially
on mondays after a weekend of local's wild love-making
around here hickeys mean true love
juanita has the most hickeys and hers are the darkest
they run from her earlobes to her clavicle ...
i think i will head out on foot
into this blizzard
traipse up a mountainside
far off the beaten path
until i cannot walk
until it does not matter
until i collapse to numb
beneath the crush of snow
you will know i am not here when
you slide your hand across our bed
where it should be warm
but you will find it is not warm
you will know that i am gone
when you no longer wish to slide your hand
across this bed ...
For more on Spiel, visit thepoetspiel.name. A longer review of the book can be read after the jump.
Small Press Review
By Kirby Congdon
by The Poet Spiel
March Street Press, 3414 Wilshire, Greensboro, NC 27408
Familiar with Spiels work, I had noticed "last call" in a recent review Presa Press has put out in Michigan. I see that it has been reprinted in his new collection, Barely Breathing. The poem simply documents the tumbling down of reason in a man‚s last hours. It reminded me of a summer job I had at the World War 1 Veterans Hospital in Napa Valley, CA. A cranky fellow needed a bedpan when the staff was out to lunch. The whole staff got hell because, as kitchen help, I had brought the bedpan to the old man's side. Kitchen help were not allowed in the ward itself. The next morning, as I came to work, I heard an attendant refer to this same patient in these terms as the attendant carried another bedpan out of the ward. "There he was, staring at the ceiling, dead as a doornail, both eyes popped wide open, perhaps not scolding anyone but, like, man, asking what‚s going on?" Where does the meaning come from? Is there any? What are the boundaries between burgeoning health and the symptoms of being only a human being? When and how does love and affection enter into any of it? Do we dare dismiss the indifference of the ward attendant's casual remark? Can the ward attendant afford to grieve for a whole barracks full of dying veterans?
We all wonder in a quiet moment of reflection at the phenomenon of existence, of being alive, at being who we are in the middle of it all, feeling and thinking as we do. Spiel's stance is to move us to the outer edge of it all where we are spinning on the rim of the phonograph record, or in the complexity of the compact disc or among the molecules packed in the memory bank of the computer as he drags in the capacity for intelligence, that awareness of knowledge of life that can look in the mirror and see the endless vista before us reflected in back of us as far as the eye can see. The Christian Bible sums it up beyond the grammar of normal English in the assertion, "I am that I am" where the first person pronoun is both the private individual clinging to his identity and the totality of the universe which our senses take in and make real. For me, this is Spiel's stance from many angles, not an answer, or a solution, or a doctrine. It is an insight that absorbs science, history and experience, along with the compulsion to put it into words, whether we are thoughtful poet or attendants speaking spontaneously in a hospital ward.
Spiel's work questions the quandary of death itself. He wisely avoids denying it with platitudes on the one hand or explicating it on the other since either approach would only bring us to temporary palliatives, or, in other words, bad poetry. Indeed, it is a mistake to gauge or measure the affect of death. It seems to matter most when one has already given an irretrievable part of yourself to someone else. Your own identity is partly defined in another person's very existence. At that person‚s death one becomes a little insane as one realizes that this possibility is now a fact that is too large for one's reason to grasp or deny. Spiel's work translates the facts and the insanity into words. I have a theory that all artistic expression is the process of translation so that the unintelligible, like an unsolvable mystery, can be grasped, even if not completely accepted.