Regional poetry: Bigger than ravens

March 26, 2000|By Matthew M. McDermott | Matthew M. McDermott,Special to the Sun

Just below the surface of awareness in the city of Baltimore, words and emotions coalesce into something quite remarkable: the local poetry scene. Its merit is often discounted in a town whose poetic identity seems to lie within the first three letters of the word "poetry" itself. But there is life after Poe. Who is emerging as Poetry Month 2000 begins?

Octogenarian Chester Wickwire's refreshing first-collection of poems, "Longs Peak" (Brickhouse Books, 78 pages, $10), exudes a virility that betrays any misconceptions that stagnation comes with age. This is not the pull-my-finger grandpappy poetry that beckons back to Thanksgiving lap rides and embellished fishing stories of summers past. In a single breath of polished rebelliousness, Wickwire sagaciously channels the spirits of Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams. He conjures memories of an event-swollen past; graceful depictions of hummingbirds amalgamate with images of corpses strewn along a dirt road in El Salvador, traversing the gamut of human experience.

Barbara DeCesare's "Jigsaw eyesore" (Anti-Man Press, 106 pages, $10) shows what thunder looks like in writing. She employs a furious, visceral style that explodes with volatility, yet possesses enough constraint to avoid becoming unfocused ranting. The result: controlled underground nuclear testing -- anti-heroic, disquieting:

No one should thank me for writing this down.

I'm waking the devils,

sending the muse to the cellar with a shotgun.

Her writing bears a resemblance to the poetry of Ai (without the gore and decapitations). This is dangerous poetry. Wear a cup.

A very strange book fell into my hands on the way to press: "Everything in Particular" (Shattered Wig Press, 17 pages) by the mono-monikered Batworth. His poetry is characterized by a seemingly arbitrary arranging of words. It's akin to violently slamming shut a refrigerator door full of magnetic poetry, then writing down what is lying on the kitchen floor. Remarkably, his writing has a smooth, flowing rhythm; I can't always make sense of it, but I can dance to it.

Doing any traveling? Vacation? Trip to the bathroom? Take along Matthew Hohner's "States" (Third Ear Books, 40 pages), surprisingly good "travel poetry." He refrains from epic Wordsworthian descriptions, opting to embrace the simple things this country has to offer -- arcane highway signs ("Fog May Be Icy"), conversations in a McDonald's parking lot. The further he travels across the United States, the closer he gets to uncovering his own identity. All told, he's got 5,000 miles worth of self-discovery on the odometer. Is that covered in the warranty?

Single poems by a handful of writers have teased me with promises of great work to come. Chezia Thompson Cager, in "The Mayor of Gilmor Street," portrays the brutal beauty of a Baltimore where junkies shoot up in a sun-drenched alley. Using hyphens like glue to string together compound adjectives that would make e.e. cummings giddy, James O'Connel's "Refusal" depicts a rural setting where a reluctant calf is snatched from its mother's womb. Heather Rounds' "After the Suicide I Was" surreally captures the sense of futility and dissatisfaction of life on the edge of oblivion.

One can sunbathe in Baltimore poetry's avant-garde glow.

Matthew M. McDermott is a Baltimore native and has two degrees from Towson University. He works in a seafood department and has a collection of rejection slips from some of the best literary magazines.

Pub Date: 03/26/00

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