dan rapheal, Casey Bush, and Laura Winter
Casey Bush, Laura Winter, and dan raphael were all at the pinnacle of form on the evening of January 25th at Powell's on Hawthorne, and each had a new book to flog. Well ok, Casey Bush's Janesbonnets isn't new, exactly; he composed these poems in the '70s, and the book itself has been in production for five or six years, but it's a real item. Pocket-size, beautifully printed by Brian Donnell, and hardbound with a plummy dustjacket, they (big publishers) don't make 'em like this anymore.
His poems are a sonnet cycle, with a correspondingly traditional theme: the love affair. At that point, however, both form and subject matter depart from convention. The poems comprise 14 lines, but the rhymes occur in unexpected places, some almost undetectable, some almost with a rude sort of abruptness. As for the lovers, Bush questions airtight individuality. The persons here fuse and switch identities, sometimes symbiotically, sometimes vampirically.
For example, In "charmless Grayling, Michigan," the landlady shares their bathroom and posts a bill of puritan rules which, like all rules, were made to be broken. Bush abuses Plato and Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the midst of '70s Disco glory: " ...digested, I feed her another line: tomorrow, I'll work your job, we'll switch/she smiles be my guest, have a jelly sandwich."
Most people don't go to poetry readings the way they do to see bands or movies, but dan raphael is pretty much a one-man band. He's basketball player-tall, sprays performative energy, and generally manages to create an aesthetic rumpus. His lines, almost as long his XL limbs, are powered by a weird associative force, gather phrase-long bits of reality in a method of order I can't figure out for the life of me. On the basis of performance alone, he might be one of the best poets in the country (no kidding, champion slammers included).
Those who've never seen raphael read owe it to themselves to do so, and to get hold of his new book, Showing the Light a Good Time, just out from Jazz Police Books. What dan does is unique, and he just keeps getting better at it. The book cover approvingly quotes an exchange overheard at a reading: She: "Do you think he's taken acid?" He: "Taken it!? I think he wears a patch." At Powell's, raphael was in good form despite a sore throat, and saxophonist Rob Scheps sat in, adding licks; a musician can only fill in with dan and let the boy blow, but the duet worked well, better than most self-conscious music/spoken word combinations.
Laura Winter also works with music. She's been the head of the Creative Music Guild, responsible for bringing some good acts to town, and her mag-in-a-bag Take Out often features written music alongside poetry and graphic art. She had a horn accompanist, ace Rob Blakeslee, who added spare but deadly accurate chops to poems from her new book. No Gravy Baby is a grouping of specifically jazz poems, where Winter delightfully punches in dedications not only to such well-known musicians as Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron, but others less prominent and just as essential.
When reading from her book, she urges listeners to listen to the musicians. She has a powerful mid-range voice and uses it in her characteristically percussive manner, and she caromed it off the walls of the room, her words a handful of marbles. Nobody could complain that the readers were hard to hear, this was no reverent murmuring. Listening to three performing poets like these on a roll is better than sitting through a mediocre band or movie any night of the week.