Dreaming in Red by Howie Good

Dreaming in Red Dreaming in RedHowie Good; right hand pointing 2011WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 
Howie Good’s latest full-length collection, his fourth, is the first book issued by the online magazine right hand pointing, and it was produced to benefit the Crisis Center in Birmingham, Alabama. 100 percent of the profits, about $5.50 per book, go to support the center’s work, which includes suicide counseling, services to victims of sexual assault, day treatment for the indigent mentally ill, and other services. You can get it through Lulu.com.

Is the book worth reading, though? If you like spare, haunting poems with dystopian themes and a healthy dash of surrealism, absolutely. As with most of the other books I’ve been reading this month, I read it to Rachel over Skype, which was an interesting experience for both of us. While I’ve read many of Howie Good’s books and chapbooks over the years, this was her first — and the first one I’ve read out loud. My pauses were rarely long enough for the full meanings to sink in. It made me appreciate just how much time is required to absorb Howie’s poems.

Rachel admitted to confusion about some of the leaps between stanzas or sections of poems, but said she was impressed by how well the poems captured the sort of everyday paranoia in which we are all enmeshed. As a volunteer at a similar organization to the Crisis Center, she fields phone calls from true paranoiacs and other highly disturbed people on a daily basis, and said she thought the book did a great job of illuminating the very fine line between ordinary thinking and madness.

I doubt the poems were chosen with the Crisis Center in mind; Good just happens to be a very noir-ish poet. Dreaming in Red is an excellent title, though: blood or the color red figure in many of the poems. 20th-century nightmares mingle with 21st-century premonitions of worse to come. “The city is full of smoke, dust, fever, flies, parading and singing and holding banners aloft” (“History is Silent”), and “To get red, you need dust and haze. Pollution makes the sky so beautiful” (“A Walk on the Moon”).

Instead of a standard review, I thought I’d try an imitation of Howie’s style as a kind of homage to this very distinctive poet whose poetry and work ethic are such an inspiration to me. Following that, I’ll embed a video that the Belgian artist Swoon Bildos made for three of the poems in the collection. Enjoy.

Good Times

after Howie Good

1.
All the clocks have guilty faces because they are being watched by secret police. You show me the new finger you had grafted on in prison, still red and slightly swollen. When we shake hands I feel it twitching spasmodically, a dog dreaming about its previous owner who shot things with it and made it point.

2.
It’s always disconcerting to learn that you’ve been blind from birth, and everything you thought you saw was merely something suggested by the prosecuting attorneys of your better nature. Then again, here on Mars, two colors capture everything. Paradise has been postponed indefinitely due to the shortage of fruit.

3.
The information paradigm followed by the mass media is fundamentally Euclidian, you said. We were cleaning out the rabbit pens with an air compressor. Even the dried blood wanted to fly. The monastery had switched from bells to sirens, so a 3:00 a.m. siren could mean fire, prayer, or both. Time hasn’t been the same since it was used to regulate trains.

*

Watch on Vimeo

10 Comments


  1. Um, yes. There isn’t really a line, of course, it’s a continuum, and the position on it of the “label” (ie “madness”) varies across time and cultures. If indeed the “label” is used at all. I usually think of it in terms of people whose perception of “reality” in a given situation would differ from mine, but without making any judgement about which perception (theirs or mine) is “right”. After all, how can any of us know?

    Psychotic experiences (of which paranoia is merely one example) are much more common than most people might imagine (up to 1 in 5 of the general population), but possibly the vast majority don’t get reported/medicalised because they aren’t causing distress.

    I think what I was trying to get at was how the poems made me think of the “paranoia” in the general population about “paranoia”. Or something.

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    1. Yes, your actual statement last night was that Howie’s poems are “holding up a mirror to our own atavistic fear that we may all be mad.” You did also speak of a “finely wrought line” — I wrote it down. Sorry if I over-simplified your views a little, and thanks for adding this clarifying note. (I still think we should re-launch the Woodrat Podcast as “Dave and Rachel argue about books.”)

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      1. Pronouncements such as those I am alleged to have made are precisely why the Woodrat Podcast should remain situated firmly in the real of the bullshit free :-)

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    2. I like the definition of delusions at the site you link to:

      Delusions are false beliefs that are firmly held but are out-of-keeping with the person’s cultural environment. These beliefs are very significant to the individual but are not accepted by other people. People may believe they are being followed; plotted against or controlled; their thoughts are being broadcast; certain songs have a hidden message; or they have special powers.

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    1. The general view in Europe and North America is that psychotic experiences are caused by mental illness and must be treated by doctors. Other societies may have very different interpretations of these experiences and different ways of dealing with them, such as relating them to past lives, or ancestral spirits. They may help people through them using ceremonies and rituals.

      Good stuff.

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      1. Exactly. One person’s patient is another person’s prophet. Another interesting continuum.

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    2. “Psychotic experiences may result from a lack of sleep” — I can vouch for that.

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  2. I may need to add this to my little stack of Howie Good chapbooks.

    Reply

  3. I’ve enjoy reading Howie Good’s poems. They often do require multiple readings for me (there are many images that at first seem disconnected and disturbing). They are haunting and when the poem sinks in, I realize Good is an intense poet who often looks at the intricacies of life in both a visually unique and cerebral manner.

    Reply

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