Friday, May 27, 2011


Terence Winch (yes, we're old close friends), despite his many honors (including Garrison Kieler reading Terence's poems on NPR a lot, as well as awards etc.) and being the writer of some of the most immortal Irish-American music created in this country ("When New York Was Irish" for one) is, in my humble opinion, highly underrated by the publishing and literary worlds.

The academy pays some attention, but nowhere near what his work deserves. But in his latest collection of poems, FALLING OUT OF BED IN A ROOM WITH NO FLOOR, they have the perfect excuse to reconsider their usual literary political games (quick, how many poets do you know the names of writing today and are they or have they been professors?—my guess is they all have) and recognize an original.

Every approach to the poem that Winch has taken over the years is in this book. There are personal narratives, ur-real explorations of the nature of personal reality, verse so free you might feel obligated to give a donation, and some of the most difficult poetic forms—villanelle or sestina anyone?—mastered in ways that don't just impress (many will probably not even notice the technical virtuosity) but do it while making the reader laugh and shake his/her head in awe of the profoundly deep insights into what it means to be alive in these times.

I can't articulate as well as I'd like how great this book is, but here's a link to a post by the poet, editor  and critic David Lehman's superb take on why he thinks it's great and Terence's best book so far (I have too many favorites and am too much of a Gemini to pick just one). (And for another Best American Poetry blog post on Terence's new book, this time about the publication party—and who is that old cat slouching in his raggedy hoodie at such a prestigious event?!—click here.)

And here's two poems to give you a taste of his genius with poetic forms and expressing the inexpressible inner lives we all share:

"Stealing Your Pills

I'm sorry someone has been stealing your pills
because they are necessary in the fight against pain.
We all need some help vanquishing our ills.

I'd have to say it's one of life's real thrills
to go from feeling bad to feeling good again,
so I'm sorry someone has been stealing your pills.

Here in the suburbs I sit, paying bills,
mostly to my shrink, who tries to keep me sane.
We all need some help vanquishing our ills.

I pay my dentist too. I'm not crazy about drills
but at least you get the gas and Novocain.
(I'm sorry someone has been stealing your pills.)

Life does not fall gently on our heads. It spills
all manner of travail on us in a steady rain
and makes us seek out help in vanquishing our ills.

It's off to the medicine cabinet for generic, no-frills
help we go. Diazepam, Oxycodone, Xylocaine.
So I'm sorry someone has been stealing your pills.
But even they need some help vanquishing their ills."

And this:

"Gigs With My Father

Those nights when the cab driver
refused to take us home
because we lived in a danger zone
we'd get out, but leave the doors
wide open, until the driver twisted himself
around, slammed them shut from the front seat
and gunned it the hell out of there.

Those New Year's Eves in the school
auditorium, basketball backboards safely
winched up and out of sight. Soft lights,
clink of glass. Drums, accordion, sax,
and banjo churning up a special American
concoction, dancers switching from the lindy
to the cha cha cha to the stack of barley.
We played "cherry pink and apple blossom
white" and "the isle of capri" for the cha cha cha.
At midnight. drunks stood in awe
and sang "auld lang syne"
to mark how time could
shift with such mysterious splendor.

Is anything left of you? I wish spirits
did inhabit things. That would be great.
I could play your banjo and bring you back.
I know I intend to live forever inside my
beautiful French accordion, my soul a tune
waiting an eternity to be played again."


tpw said...

Dear Michael: Thanks so much for this---I am in your debt in a multitude of ways, and that includes the influence of your own remarkable writing (which is also undervalued in the literary marketplace)on my own work. You are a most generous & appreciative friend---and not just to me, but to so many of your fellow artists.

Harryn Studios said...

magnificent ...

high quality indeed - but don't short-sell yourself Michael - that piece you read at DIA a short time ago still echoes through my head (like so many others) ...

It's just a damn shame that art isn't part of the healthcare bill - "We all need some help vanquishing our ills" ...

AlamedaTom said...

Excellent stuff! I really like the ABA ABA rhyming scheme in "Stealing Your Pills." Unlike a lot of attempts at such structure, the rhyming is so natural it is as if it just fell into place by accident.

~ Willy

Lally said...

Tom and Paul, glad you appreciated Winch's work. Two discerning dudes.