The Chair
Richard Garcia
Garcia is one of those poets who write out 100 - 300 words and then sets them out on the page as justified (to use the printer's term) so that they appear as a simple square block of text. He then dubs it "poetry." No end stopped lines, nor formal line breaks --- the usual stuff that for most people makes poetry Poetry.

He then gives a title, collects 80 or 100 of these blocks in a volume that he and the publisher agree to call The Chair: Poems.

And you and I read it and we are not so sure whether it's verse or what they call prose-poems or just plain nonsense. Like this, "Postcard from a Nude Beach" in its entirety:

    The beach is naked. No sand. No pebbles. No shale, No stones. The waves, as if they were ashamed, roll up to it tentatively, and just before they reach the shore, they turn back. Above, seeming to hang in the wind like mobiles, the skeletons of three gulls. It is said that if you should fall asleep on this beach you'd wake up in your dream and stay there.

This may well come off as poetry ... at least a verse that takes you where you've never been before, with lines that may stir the soul, offering a certain genial unexpectedness, complete with novel symbols: the waves as "ashamed" and "tentative;" the birds as "mobiles;" all joined together with paradox --- "wake up in your dream and stay there."

As we go through the other box-poems here, we'll find lines that are rich with symbols that work, and best of all, images worthy of the name "images."

Like: in sleep you may wear a baseball cap "like a cat in a banana tree."


"Night come striding, dark, starless, cold."


"They say the fish here are also made of glass. The only bait that works on them is tiny, triangular mirrors."


"The light and shadows of an entire week of Venetian blinds dragged its prison bars across my face."

Or, this reflection on his personal history as poet:

"They say you are washed up. Your poems are red salt in the sunset."

Some of the lines turn sing-song, even silly: "You can dance with your pants. It's called The Pants Dance."

Some can turn dada, Tristan Tristan in modern-day Minneapolis dress: "I wonder why it's only blonde women who are disappearing. I open up the newspaper: no more blondes in Minnesota. I look through the files in my computer. Blondes are disappearing from my poems: the one who had tried to poison me with developer fluid; the one I ran over with a motorcycle."

It's all a matter of taste. For those who are slaves to form and structure, this is not poetry. But for others of us, Garcia's works come across as compact mini-mysteries, with a few great lines to keep us stoked up.

§   §   §

If we are going to abandon the poetic form as Garcia does, we are at least left with a story complete with its own payoff. There are here some fine early poems --- at least ones that appear early in this volume --- like "The History of the Minstrel Show." This poem tells a story of people using people, tells it sequentially, and gives it a rare spin, historical facts jumbled together with a certain jaundiced insight of people who do things in a political-polemical (but not necessarily unpoetical) way.

Because our writer has chosen to lay these verses out in such orderly boxes, we find them worthy, and wry, and alive.

--- A. W. Allworthy
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