Inside out, upside down, and round and round with John J. Trause

John J. Trause is not the sort of friend I’ll call late at night with my boo-hoo problems (though he says he stays up all hours), but the kind who’ll occasionally ask me to stand on my head at poetry readings. He’ll stand on his, and alongside him, I’ll stand on mine (once in front of a plate glass window), as he recites Lewis Carroll’s “You are Old, Father William.” As an added fillip, I’ll wave my airborne legs in semaphore formation “to provide closed caption translation for the hearing impaired.” And though this particular caper was not pulled off tonight, you have to wonder if it was by calculation or mere coincidence that John held the book launch of Inside Out, Upside Down, and Round and Round, his first collection of poetry, on April Fool’s Day. In Swift’s Hibernian Lounge on East 4th St., NYC John read from the backroom pulpit (and I do mean pulpit) that, now as some sort of quirky museum piece, Jonathan Swift himself is said to have read sermons from.

Figures. I first met John at St. John the Divine Cathedral years ago. He was reading for a writing group that regularly met there called Wild Angels. His piece: a hilarious poem about the pre-Just Say No Nancy Reagan’s sexcapades on Pacific Coast Highway, in the back seat of a convertible, dispensing blowjobs to the Rat Pack. Farting in church. I loved it. For this congregation Nancy had the night off, though.

Just open up and say ah until the starlet-cum-harlot turning scarlet, Scarlet, you’re turning scarlet, Scarlet, turns white: immaculate transformation into the bride of Ron, passing through the Ivory Gate, Virginity Reconstructed.

Even so, we still went for a wild ride.

John’s a neo-retro-PoMo sui generis, and yet a classic. (He knows an ancient form of Greek, and translates Latin.) He exquisitely mixes the ancient with the ten-minutes-ago, slimed sublime with reverential ridiculousness . You get plenty of that in his poetry, plus a helluva lot more. Actually, you might not always know quite what you’re getting until you read the footnotes to some. John loves the uncommon, the outré, the recherché and erudite, or the commonplace turned inside out, upside down, and round and round.

Then there’s John’s grand passion for language: the vocabularian curlicues and conundrums, puns cunning and corny, polysyllabic alliterations melting on his tongue like candy…

You might go spelunking in the convolutions of his cranial folds without a flashlight. Or find yourself washed ashore, as we did at this reading, beached on some terra incognita, never quite sure how you sailed there. Except you jumped onboard the Trauseboat, where the helm might be turned in any direction, while the sextant of John’s imagination re-coordinates historical facts and the bios of famous (and not-so-famous) people—one of his favorite subjects to write poems about—to perversely hold the course and navigate the way. (But being a bit of a poetic contrarian, I think he’d probably take exception to my metaphor. Or of my having so gauchely goosed it.)

Get the book; you’ll see what I mean.