The Brooklyn
Branding Parlors
James Purdy
(Contact II)
Let's see: Brooklyn Branding Parlors is listed at $10. There are six poems --- that works out to a buck sixty-six a poem. Total word count --- about three hundred. That's three point thirty-three cents a word.

Our tally doesn't include the acknowledgement/copyright/library of congress page (311 words --- probably not all poetry) nor the edition number page (twenty words, not a poem in sight, unless you consider "26 of which are signed by author and artist, and numbered" as free verse).

Then there's the "James Purdy has published 12 books...received international acclaim," blah-blah page, weighing in with 177 words.

Still, if you compare these to the six ostensible (or ostentatious) poems, it might turn out to be high verse indeed. Put more simply, this is a screw deal, riding on Purdy's name. Consider,

    I chide the hail for falling
    and the sea when it scatters its salt,
    and I cry
       Don't let the snow fall
       or the sun give up its flame
       Keep his heart from freezing
          in the bitter sting of the grave.

To know that someone is trying to palm this off on us for $1.67 means that he or she certainly must think we are a bunch of dodoes, right? (As we transcribed the first line of the above poem, we wrote, "I chide the hair for falling..." After viewing Purdy's photograph on the poop page --- along with 331 words, including "a work whose terse, clean style grips its readers and leaves them breathless" we thought it might not be such a bad mistranscription. )

There are six "modern" drawings by someone named Vassilis Voglis attached to each poem. It's wretched ersatz Mondrian with the printing register so bad we thought an egg and salami sandwich had gone bonkers in the press-room.

The Road to
Real Estate Wealth

Wayne Phillips
(Simon & Schuster)
We picked up this one prepared to sneer, and stayed to think of friends whom we should give copies to. Not that it is honorable. That's not the question. What Phillips has put together is a comprehensive list of government programs which you may or may not be able to tap into --- programs which stagger one just by the quantity of naked animal $$$ so freely available.

State and federal representatives have badly fudged up the landscape with a numbing variety of programs for the poor, the elderly, the lower middle class, which, of course, never get to those who need it the most. In truth, programs designed to help the needy go to benefit the already-wealthy who have access to attorneys paid to steer them into funding that they can qualify for. It is Socialism for the Haves.

HUD and FHA and Historic Preservation and Urban Development and FMHA 502 and Title One and GSA surplus and state surplus and repo programs are scandalous because they can be used only by those who take the time and the effort to sniff them out (commercial and public radio, television stations, and the daily and weekly newspapers, spend little if any time alerting the rest of us to their existence).

But the author of Government Loans contends that there are enough nooks and crannies for all of us to access the Fat Government Gold Mines. That's what it's all about. As you peruse it, however, you would be well advised to skip over the glib success stories of people named Tom and Bill and Bob. What you are looking for are the names and addresses of the various government agencies who can help you with low interest or guaranteed housing or rehabilitation loans. These make the book worth it.

A Continuing
Samuel F. Pickering, Jr.
(University Press of New England)
"In the future it will be easier for an elephant to crawl through a transom than it will for a book published by a university press to rest on my bookshelf" says this author in a work published by the University of Connecticut. Pickering has put together twelve essays on his origins in Tennessee, growing old (or older), browsing through attics, teaching, not being famous. One wants to cheer him on, because good essayists are rare, and honest ones are rarer still. But there is something too literary in the words of this pedant.

He is so cerebral that his dialogues turn mendacious (perhaps it is Narcissism: people too much in their own heads have trouble connecting with other's souls, or their own souls, for that matter).

    Kneeling on the floor reading the charts, I remembered running down the attic steps with a top hat or a pair of antlers in my hands. What had happened, I wondered, to that boy? How lost he was in the writing man I had become.

Someone evidently told Pickering that formal writers have to be cool, so when a real human peeps through his endless references to obscure writers and obscure feelings, it does turn one's head.

    Some years ago in New Hampshire, the feelings of aggression and depression that occasionally sweep over me so frightened me that I broke the shotgun I hunted with down into parts. Since the house I was living in did not have an attic, I carried the parts into the basement and locked each in a separate trunk. The basement was damp; the parts rusted, and when I left New Hampshire, I threw the gun away.

The author claims to be indifferent to psychology and the study of the human mind, and it shows. The essays first appeared in the likes of "The Southwest Review" and "The American Scholar," which may explain their sterile lunkishness, but there are moments of wit sprinkled about here and there, when he loses "the arrogance of learning:

    Recently a boy wrote a theme for me on Robinson Caruso. Although I had assigned Defoe's book and the boy obviously had not read it, he passed. The picture I conjured up of Robinson Caruso walking along the beach, gun and umbrella in hand, and singing "Friday, Friday" in a resonant baritone gave me more pleasure than the best punctuated paper in the class

and Rebirth
in Tibetan Buddhism
Lati Rinbochay and
Jeffrey Hopkins
(Snow Lion)
According to the Tibetan Buddhists, the death of the individual occurs in eight cycles of dissolution --- four having to do with the elements (earth, water, fire, and wind). For each cycle, there is an internal sign (the appearance of mirages, then smoke, then fireflies within the smoke, and the final stage: "appearance of a sputtering butter-lamp about to go out.")

The history, structure, and deterioration of the body, in Buddhist terms, are graphic, explicit, and often poetic:

    During the first æon all humans of this world had...sustenance by the food of joy without eating coarse food, and magically flying in the sky. However, due to activation of predispositions established by attachment to food [in previous lives], they ate coarse sustenance. When the unrefined part of the food turned into fæces and urine, the male and female organs protruded as openings for excretion. In dependence on their lying together, a sentient being formed in the womb. Through these steps, birth from a womb came to be.

The Buddhists have specific experiences to report during the period between lives: that it is exactly forty-nine days, and that rebirth comes specifically from feelings of anger (which sounds strictly Freudian to us):

    In taking rebirth as a human, one sees one's future mother and father as if lying together. If one is to be reborn as a male, this sight generates desire for the mother as well as hatred for the father --- and vice versa if one is to be reborn as a female. Being desirous, one rushes there to engage in copulation; but upon arrival, one sees only the sexual organ of the desired partner. This creates anger which causes cessation of the intermediate state and makes the connection to the new life. One has entered the mother's womb and begun a human life...One is desirously attracted to one's future birthplace, even if it is to be a hell.

A Preview
Of the Dream
Zack Rogow
Rogow is of the seasons as-big-friendly-lunks school of poetry ("...trees drain green from their leaves/while way up north on a woody mountainside/Winter is hiking toward us...") but is not averse to a bit of wry:

    a heavy-set man
    carrying a motorcycle helmet gave me a wink
    when I asked him the way
    to Karl Marx's grave.

--- Ignacio Schwartz

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