Home of the Blues, More Selected Poems by Andy Clausen, Museum of American Poetics Publications, 2013
Reviewed by GEORGE WALLACE
AND THE HITS JUST KEEP ON COMING
It must be hard to retain the off-handed conversational style of a working man holding forth at a bar, when you have at your command the lightning-like moves and instincts of a post-bop Spinoza—and the whole history of civilizations West and East at your disposal, right up to the daily news.
Like Andy Clausen. Clausen's had the kind of magic to enact this kind of championship balancing act in his writing and performance ever since Ginsberg 'discovered' him hamming it up naked on the poetry stage in 1968 Berkeley while pounding home political truths Thomas Paine, Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs and Crazy Horse would've approved of.
I use the word 'discover' with a little bit of forethought, by the way. 'Discovered' should be reserved for drifting ecospheres and lost continents. The hidden tick-tock of physical and spiritual worlds. But try as I might, I can't help feeling that Andy Clausen's a force of nature like that. Has been for more than forty years, and is today.
Once again Clausen proves himself to be both showman, provocateur and brilliant social witness, hitting sweet notes in "Home of the Blues" like the best of 'em. In a way, this book is a little chest of precious doors—open any one of them and rediscover your sense of breakneck surprise!
And no matter what political stripe you wear, be prepared to have your own comfort zone pin-pricked like a balloon, somewhere along the way.
This poetry's the machine gun fire of a man who has that peculiar Beat talent for merging fast paced rap with the insurgent's knife—amiably displayed, wielded in so disarming a way that you become accomplice to your own skewering. In goes the knife, out goes the breath of stale complacency. And he does it with such a disarming playfulness and wry offhandedness, spilling your guts like an accidental bag of carpenter's nails on a coffeetable.
That's something more than bop prosody, enrapturing as that is—the thing Kerouac called 'spontaneous get-with-it' and Ginsberg 'Swift language' in possession of 'run-on extended breath mental word riff...the vox populi of one of Whitman's unreprentant roughs.'
Because these poems are that, and more. Clausen's expansive Whitmanic perspective is informed by the inescapable tone and tenor of the tainted 20th century experience.
Knowing what he knows, being the unflinching man he is, how could Clausen hold forth Whitmanic? As he says himself, in the frankly great title poem "Home of the Blues", confronted with the essential 'contradiction from hell,' America, "I'd like to be like Whitman...but I can't, don't ask why..." Oscillating in a maelstrom of his culture's unpredictable winds, "All the beneficial bounty/all the music/all the deception & cruel crimes/backed by guns of money & pain & worse...I've not only got a right to sing those blues/I've got an obligation."
In another fine poem, "Amsterdam," Andy Clausen notes, cruising thru the Van Gogh museum, that every painting is worth 'a lifetime of wages & the guy only sold one painting in his life.'
This book is like that, each poem worth a lifetime of wages. Which makes us lucky -- we can still get 'em while their cheap. Because if life is as fair to Andy Clausen as it was to Vincent Van Gogh, there's a chance poems from 'Home of the Blues' will be hanging on some wall somewhere someday, for those who want to know what the end of the 20th century looked like.
Home of the Blues, More Selected Poems, Andy Clausen (Museum of American Poetics Publications, 2013)
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