In Mixed Company by Caleb Puckett & Friends, edited by Walter Ruhlmann and co-edited by Caleb Puckett
(mgv>2 publishing, 2013)
One of my poetry manuscripts-in-progress, 147 MILLION ORPHANS: A Haybun, includes contributions by other poets including Tom Beckett, j/j hastain, John Bloomberg-Rissman, Aileen Ibardaloza, Thomas Fink, Sheila E. Murphy, Michael Caylo-Baradi, Jean Vengua, William Allegrezza, Patrick James Dunagan and Ava Koohbor. I cite this project because it's on my mind as I write this review and a folio of their contributions was just published by Otoliths over HERE.
And I mention this, too, to indicate my appreciation of the structure of In Mixed Company by Caleb Puckett & Friends. The authorial reference to "& Friends" indicates the collaborative presence of other poets. There are poetics reasons for why an author would involve other writers. I can't speak to Puckett's rationale but some general reasons (including mine for engaging in such a structure) relates to such elements as community, the flux of identity (there is no stable or fixed authorial identity), and the matter of how language are not "owned" by individual writers. Deep stuff, yes? But certainly while these are weighty matters, one of In Mixed Company's strengths is that it's not weighted down by such matters -- quite often, indeed, the poems soar.
After I wrote the above two paragraphs which are based solely on my read of the book, I would come across a book description (on the publisher's blog) that says the project is a "drive" through the musical artists which influenced and inspired the poets. So my initial view -- partly driven by how most of the poems are by Puckett -- may be irrelevant. But that's okay: as I said, In Mixed Company is not weighted down by such matters (grin).
In Mixed Company presents the contributions of, besides Puckett, Kevin Rabbas, Robin J. Morrison (Ray Succre), Jay Levin, Mark Young, and Sheila e. Black. Its structure further may be elucidated by its epigraph:
The mix tape is a list of quotations, a poetic form in fact: the
cento is a poem made up of lines pulled from other poems.
The new poet collects and remixes.
—Matias Viegener, Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture
The cover of the publication is of a guitar (sorry that I'm not expert enough to know what kind of guitar), which aptly fits the strength of many of the poems: its musicality. Such, indeed, is the (or one of the) stellar achievements of this project: that from collaging together lines written by others, the result comes to offer a harmony that elides any dissonance from the seams that might pop up from stitched-together lines. Here's a fabulous example:
Time of Dying
Morning blows in hard and cold from the north,
and I’m running from these highlands,
twisted in this black river,
tangled up with ragged drifters,
turning as sick as my sweet Sadie in this tombstone rain.
What Eden do you seek here, poor Dylan?
What ballad will you sing?
Homesick for whose door and what fate?
Heaven’s bound by dark eyes.
Farewell, dear Sadie.
Night dirties the lilies and roses beside the shelter,
and I’m running through these lowlands,
twisted in these storm winds,
tangled up by these train tracks,
turning as blue as cursed Judas in this tombstone rain.
But the music also offers a variety. I can't recall (from my readings) the last time I read a poem that evoked the effect of a hymn. I thought this before I came to read "Carving the Martyr's Stone" which began with this line that I cite in case it's autobiographical: "I was born singing hymns of peace on a golden hill."
Still, the hymn evocations, while welcome, is not the primary factor that makes these poems so effective. I would say, it's their catchiness -- catchy as tunes. For an example, I'll cite a poem by one of Puckett's friends:
by Robin J. Morrison (Ray Succre)Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard
Boss, I’m the monarch at the apple carts, steppin’ on a crack. A
pock-marked face and a hen-pecked heart. Bent and skin-flint,
long snout (I can wear it for a tie), and this crooked-tongue
mouth up off my gizzard. Boss, I get to platinum; my girl licks
my red and takes up my rent: I’m a steak with a busted back
and a t-bone splint.
Boss, she calls me Thomas, but only in the yard.
Perched on the black rock like a barnacle—hemorrhoid; praise
God for shaden-freud, open-face or face-down. Boss, I’m
crook-shanked, an arm full of boxcars, here they come, leave
me be, just get me downtown with a hat. We got some weather
behind and ahead and the Russian River girls don’t step out
anymore; no candy apple tits with a rainbow’s lace, but what
about all that smoke, boss… no ass on Facebook without the
Boss, I was born in a taxi cab, I’m never comin’ home. Hoss got
me a Man, a boss daddy hog; bone-spur eyes with a niche and
an itch for contracts. You meet me at the IHOP like a reptile
flirt in a scarlet dress. Let me get low where I always know; sir,
don’t you tug a billy goat’s chinny chin; he’ll ash out the sky
and drop down the piano where you settled him up past the
bush-fires near Santa Rosa. Boss, I’m the monarch at the apple
carts; let me shave you clean.
Ain’t a moustache around can ride that much lip.
It's written by another poet and yet I wouldn't have second-guessed if this poem had been presented as one of Puckett's -- such is the harmony integrating the contributions of Puckett and his friends.
In Mixed Company -- nice pun of a title -- is a most friendly read. Highly Recommended.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor. An exception is made for the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA as that was co-written with another author, j/j hastain--and it is reviewed by T.C. Marshall in this GR #20 issue. She is also pleased to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her books. Her 2013 book, THE AWAKENING was reviewed by Tom Beckett at L'Amour Fou; by Amazon Hall of Famer Reviewer Grady Harp on Amazon and elsewhere; by Joey Madia at Literary Aficionado; by Edric Mesmer at Yellow Field; by Zvi Sesling at Boston Area Small Press & Poetry Scene and by jim mccrary and his cat Iris at Babaylan Poetics. Her 2007 book, SILENCES: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF LOSS, was also recently reviewed by Nicholas T. Spatafora in Litter Magazine.