NEIL DE LA FLOR Reviews
Cemetery Chess: Selected and New Poems by Sandy McIntosh
(Marsh Hawk Press, New York, 2012)
Narrative poetry lives (and will most likely never die) inside of Sandy McIntosh. Cemetery Chess: Selected and New Poems collects four decades worth of McIntosh's poetry from his first book Earth Works to his newest poems, such as “Halloween” and “Ravenous”.
In “Ravenous”, McIntosh reflects upon his early success as a poet and also exemplifies what a weary and lonesome path all writers must take. On this journey, McIntosh's muse got lost in the “wilderness years”, but this loss brought insight and possibly opened a new space for his work to move around. The wilderness is where McIntosh found a new language lit with fiery self-deprecating humor and cutting honesty:
“I'd fumbled along with poetry
for years, poisoned
by an early success: a book
published by a college
when I was twenty. Too early...”
Despite his fumbling ways, McIntosh confronts what many writers face mid-career—insecurity and anxiety.
“I couldn't find her:
Poetry, the halo-haired girlfriend
who leaves the note on your refrigerator:
“I'll be back in a decade or so. Don't hold dinner.”
McIntosh doesn't give up or starve. He waits through that empty fridge phase and, when all seems lost, the muse returns ravenous and full of words. “So I write and write.”
In “On the Shinnecock Canal” from McIntosh's first book Earth Works (1970), his journey as a poet walks off the page and into the body of the reader: He writes:
“I will begin walking through your body soon.
It is a long walk, I promise.
I will be quiet.
Last night I walked through your eyes
with a lantern in each hand.”
So much of McIntosh's work is about illuminating the body and the senses, especially in his collection of poetry Ernesta, In the Style of the Flamenco (2010), where music informs the rhythm of his poems.
“Don't look shaken, chico.
She is a wild animal, this music,
She must be controlled,
Caged else she turn upon you
Arrogant armies stamping feet across
Across continents, McIntosh returns to the central themes of his work—love and loss—and in this space is where we see and feel McIntosh's poetry rise up in our throats as we recite the words on the page. In the poem “For a Man Who Lost His Wife” from Between Earth & Sky (2002), McIntosh laments:
“And now she's dead, and you continue to live
in your overcrowded room, as if your wife were still living
behind the door that's locked.”
McIntosh unlocks what's inside of us scurrying about in a disorganized, yet manufactured chaos of our own doing. McIntosh puts that mess in order and narrates the stories, the poems, that run through our veins and his. He paints a world that we can walk into and sit down safely next to our greatest fears and hopes. In a language harnessed from that halo-haired muse, McIntosh's Cemetery Chess is a monument to the salient ands steady progress of a extraordinarily compassionate poet.
Neil de la Flor is a writer, teacher, and photographer. His publications include An Elephant's Memory of Blizzards (Marsh Hawk Press, 2013); Sinead O'Connor and her Coat of a Thousand Bluebirds (Firewheel Editions, 2011), co-authored with Maureen Seaton and winner of the Sentence Book Award; Almost Dorothy (Marsh Hawk Press, 2010), winner of the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize; Facial Geometry (NeoPepper Press, 2006), co-authored with Maureen Seaton and Kristine Snodgrass; and Two Thieves and a Liar (forthcoming, Jackleg Press, 2013), also co-authored with Maureen Seaton and Kristine Snodgrass.
His short stories and poetry, solo and collaborative, have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Barrow Street, Pank, Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, Court Green, Best American Poetry Blog and other print and web-based journals. He is also the performance arts journalist for KnightArts, an organizational blog maintained by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and contributes to Miami-based arts bureau, Art Burst Miami. His writing on performance arts has appeared in The Miami Herald, The Miami New Times and The SunPost. His photography regularly appears in conjunction with his performance art reviews and previews. He earned an MFA at the University of Miami and was a Michener Fellow. Neil can be reached at www.neildelaflor.com.