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.
after Howie Good
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.
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.
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.
At the dentist’s office (“Summer is/ near enough/ to smell,// its teeth marks on the trees”), I reach into my pocket, find the pocket-sized book of poems I stowed there this morning, and realize with a start that it’s the official day for poetry in pockets. Serendipitous, or just creepy? (“Love bends/ like light// around/ found objects…”) I think that’s “Graceland” on the radio, but I don’t recognize the singer. (“The human cries/ of wounded horses.”) It’s been 11 years since my last visit, so they make me fill out a form detailing my medical history; I don’t have any. I’m tempted to select two or three of the chronic conditions just to make it look like I’ve read the form. (“Anything to restore mystery/ and unexplain the universe.”) But which ones to pick? They all look so attractive! (“Start from the premise that everything is broken.”) I’ve been coming here since I was a kid, and there was another dentist with the very same name, though they aren’t related. (“To polish a diamond,/ there is nothing like its own dust.”) There’s still the same beach scene on the wall and the same seagull mobile in front of it, both looking frayed and faded. (“The broken wave// repairs itself./ Life is contagious.”) Back home, I pour salt in my water and call it soup. (“Darkness// one drop/ in each eye// twice a day”) I sit out on the porch with the pocket-sized book, a little creased now from walking into town and back. (“The paper trembled.”) I remember the nest of stainless steel spoons beside the road — those damn kids and their wild tea parties! (“Oh, love,/ we’re beautiful// anarchy,/ birds nesting// in the holes/ made by grenades.”) As I pick my way slowly through the poems again, I listen to water rushing in the ditches, and grow certain that its cacophony of notes includes every word. (“The world is made/ of tiny struggling things.”)
What I’ve been reading, what I’ve been writing, and what’s up with all the banjos
Topics include: Why a podcast and what I hope to accomplish with it; what a woodrat is; how to keep mandatory titles from messing up haikus; poems by Howie Good, John Haines, Sarah J. Sloat, Esther Jansma, and Vasko Popa; what I look for in poetry and why I write it; how I got started writing banjo poems; Jonah and the gourd vine; and New Year’s resolutions.