By Ken Meisel
Bottom Dog Press
Perfect Bound, 96 pages
Link to purchase
For one as skeptical of contemporary poetry as myself, I found myself surprisingly drawn to Ken Meisel's Beautiful Rust. In these poems, Meisel paints an apt picture of a declining, nay, decaying American Empire that we call Detroit City. The poems maintain an even-headed personal introspection while propagating universal truth, so that we are never hand-fed truths without the hard won tactile feel of actual street experience expressed in a lyrical but concrete language.
I was also impressed by Meisel's ability to express his genuine love for Detroit by upholding his respect for what remains of the culture there: the corner store, local jazz and rock and roll, dilapidated industrial sites, impoverished children, hard working yet unemployed factory workers, the dark stain of poverty... Meisel's collection is a collage of what he once loved about his city and what he still loves, even though most of what he knew has been reduced to ruins.
Also, the reader will be impressed by Meisel's use of form. These poems are written in free verse, but not lawlessly so. His couplets and column poems are symmetrical and one will find satisfaction with his use of the long line in several of the poems, lines often so long they nearly become prose poetry, without losing sight of the need of the poetic line. So few poets these days respect the line at all. It is refreshing when one finds a poet that does. What I detect in these lines is a vibrant, healthy poetry; poetry that actually reaches out to say something and indeed does have something to say – a rare commodity in today's world of abstracted poetry that gyrates nonchalantly in a false void.
But what I like most about Beautiful Rust is its ability to bring to the reader a potent light in the ruins of a once great city and its desire to not forget that authentic poetic existence thrives on the love of loss, on traces of what was, on the evanescence of an intransient world. But mostly, Beautiful Rust is a strong collection of American poetry.
“The City is a Woman”***
From Beautiful Rust
Said the man on Forest Avenue.
He was holding his brown bag
of fortune & his eyes were salt.
Do you know she loves the body
of a man even though he's beat
her? All this as the gulls rose up
over the black chimney towers
and the trucks stomped & rolled
into the Eastern Market district.
To love a woman, I think, is to
try out for size what it is to be
a swollen watermelon. The heart
is full of redness and dark seeds.
There are stories & dark truths.
Murder and mayhem and a laughter
that is really a strange card game.
We take our chances when we
love someone until the end of it.
The heart of a city, this one, is full
of coughing & dead radiators,
and men whose time is a lottery.
The women in it grow dark & mute
and hum songs to hanging laundry
that is never fully cleaned off.
The children in it are leaving it.
we must remember that the city
is a woman, he said.
Louis E. Bourgeois lives and writes in Oxford, Mississippi. His memoirs, The Gar Diaries, was nominated for The National Book Award in 2008. His latest book, Hosanna, is forthcoming in the fall of 2009 by Xenos Books. Bourgeois is also editor of VOX PRESS and The Bourgeois Interviews.