My friend Lisa loaned me a crudely produced, saddle-stapled chapbook of poems run together to fit as many as possible in its eighty pages, with only one (big) blurb on the back of it, from Harvey Pekar (the guy whose writings-turned-into-comics about his seemingly mundane daily life was made into the flick AMERICAN SPLENDOR).
And after reading only a couple of poems in it I began to wonder, how could I have overlooked this guy.
I must have heard of him before, because he writes about New Jersey, about places close to where I grew up (though years later), and about similar people and experiences.
Someone must have told me about him over the years. I maybe even met him somewhere, or at least ran across one or more of his poems I would think. I can see from the acknowledgements that some were published in magazines and even an anthology— IDENTITY LESSONS—that I was published in too.
So how come I missed his greatness until now?
That’s one of those unpredictable odd things about life ain’t it?
One obvious reason is there’s just too much out there. Even as a boy I could never have imagined how much, nor, I suspect, could anyone else have.
The sheer and simple increases in population, as well as the concurrent increases in outlets for creativity, means there’s just so much stuff out there—many would say too feckin’ much (the Irish accent made it a reality that only Irish recipients of Grammies and Tonys and Oscars could get away with using “fucking” as an adjective on TV without being bleeped initially).
But this guy was right up my alley, literally.
I’ve had people try to turn me on to other guys, or their writing or art or whatever, who they thought I had a lot in common with, and the usual result was indifference or even animosity.
Because usually I, or we, didn’t see the similarities, or they were only superficial and had nothing to do with who we really were, which was very much in opposition on many levels, or, we were actually alike in many ways and therefore there wasn’t anything to explore, or get over, or to satisfy our natural curiosity that made us move out of where we came from in the first place.
But this guy, whether we would dig each other in person, or whether he might have known my work in any way—since I wrote about some similar subjects and places a while before he did and since we obviously appeared in some of the same venues—this guy I share some real stuff with.
And though we might not have dug each other in person, if we ever met, I certainly would have dug his work had I only paid real attention to it, or seen enough of it to take the measure of his genius, as I now have, thanks to my friend Lisa.
I don’t know if you can even get hold of this chapbook, though I assume we can get almost anything on line.
So here it is: THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, New & Selected Poems from Elizabeth, New Jersey by Joe Weil, published by Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books.
I just googled him to see about other books, and it turns out he’s all over the web, even in Wikepedia (where as far as I know I ain’t), and though I was told he was homeless and had maybe already passed on, he seems to teach at SUNY upstate New York, and economics (!) among other subjects, and appears to be highly regarded in academic as well as the usual poetry mob scenes, so I guess I don’t have to tout him like he’s been overlooked.
Still, you, like me, might have missed him.
But don’t take all the citations on the web, or mine or my friend’s or Harvey Pekar’s recommendations though, check it out for yourself, and see where this terrific poet is coming from.
As he puts it in the poem “Ode to Elizabeth”: “Where nothing is sacred, everything is sacred/Where no one writes, the air seems strangely/charged with metaphor.”
Is it a coincidence that the lines before that are: “At night, I can still hear mothers yelling:/’Michael, supper! Get your ass in gear!’
Or as he puts it in another poem, “So Kiss Me Asshole”: he comes from “the neighborhood/of unhappy waitresses.”
A neighborhood worth a visit.