I’ve got a lot of books by poets Geoff Young and Mark Terrill. But some of them are really tiny, or extremely thin with staples where the fold is—what are called “chapbooks”—while others have a “perfect binding” as it’s called when there’s a “spine” (the flat surface between the back and front covers where the title and author’s name are printed sideways).
I think of all and any kind of collection of pages that are bound in some way as a book—even those that are side stapled (three staples up the left side on pages that then open on the right like a book).
Some people find it pretentious when some of us list as “books” we’ve had published what they consider “chapbooks”—while I find it a kind of discrimination against thinner or smaller books, or books with just cheaper ways of binding, to call them anything other than books.
So here’s two poetry books, one with no spine, (just two staples where the pages fold, “saddle stitching” as it’s sometimes called)—Geoffrey Young’s THE SPECIALIST—and an extremely thin “spine” on the other collection of poems (42 pages)—Mark Terrill’s THE SALVADOR-DALAI-LAMA EXPRESS.
I feel like I’ve written about these books before, or mentioned them, though I can’t find any actual post on them. But they’re recent books (2009) by these two favorite poets and now friends (Geoff I’ve known for many years but Mark I only know through emails after Geoff published a book of Terrill’s that instantly became one of my all time favorites BREAD & FISH) and wanted to hip people to them.
THE SPECIALIST only contains nine poems (if I counted correctly), though some of them are a few pages long. The longest is the title poem, which makes the book worth it. “The Specialist” is maybe Young’s most serious poem. Not that most of his poems don’t deal with serious themes (another in this collection, “Peter the Late” is about as serious as it gets) or language (many of his poems have no obvious “themes” or “topics” but still convey a lot of “meaning”) but they almost always have an element of irony or its close cousin very witty sarcasm.
“The Specialist” about caring for an alcoholic father is something else. In fact, it may be the best thing I’ve ever read on what it’s like to be a caretaker for a practicing alcoholic.
Not that it’s a screed on caretaking or has any answers other than human and practical ones, but because it captures, sometimes with wit, sometimes with a gravity that’s only lightened by Geoff’s mastery of language, the hopelessness of repetitive drunken behavior followed by remorse followed by drunken behavior and so on endlessly, or until the ultimate end.
Here’s just a few lines [I'm sorry I'm unable to get these long lines to break the way Geoff does in the book, so I'll indicate the line breaks by one slash and the indented line breaks with two]:
“The poets have told us about hell, a terrible freeze in the nerves,
//something to do with bodies pursued to the edge of lifelessness.
/How walk in then and take over the controls of a ship wandering in circles,
//a ship whose captain hopes its own motion will create a maelstrom
//strong enough to suck it down forever?”
But it’s more than a take on dealing with a practicing alcoholic, it’s a love song from a son to a father in the last stages of not just his alcoholism but his life. A more poignant and realistic view of both these sad realities you’d be hard put to find.
Mark Terrill’s book—THE SALVADOR-DALAI-LAMA EXPRESS—contains about forty shorter poems. Not all reach the heights of his best—as BREAD & FISH does—but there’s enough of them that rank up there with his best to make it an extremely worthwhile read.
I’ve always found the kind of deep spiritual epiphany many Buddhist poets profess experiencing almost impossible to find in their poems. But Terrill—who as far as I can recall doesn’t mention any specific spiritual practice anywhere—captures exactly what these other poets talk about but rarely convey in their poetry (even when it’s sometimes terrific) with the exception of Joanne Kyger (there may be others but she’s the only one who comes to mind).
Almost every piece of writing I’ve read by Terrill captures and imaginatively expresses just those kind of epiphanies (BREAD & FISH hits that mark in every one of the prose poems in it, for instance). In this latest collection, there’s more variety, in terms of approaches and intentions in the poems, which makes some of them about other than his usual spiritual insights into his mundane and not-so-mundane experiences.
But here’s an example of the former from THE SALVADOR-DALAI-LAMA EXPRESS that has some obvious references to Buddhist ideas in it but so lightly done and so well integrated into the simplicity of the scene he is sharing it works, for me, just as those epiphanic (if there is such a word, well there is now) moments do:
Out back my eyes are all over that
flat green northern German landscape
illumined by an oblique morning sun
casting down its clear crystalline light
while immediacy’s insistence has me
inwardly mobile, moving toward some
jewel-like center, some glowing matrix,
some shimmering source of enlightenment
which probably isn’t even half as bright
as the diamond-like dewdrop sparkling
in that blade of grass right over there.