I n the mid-1990s, when the poetry slam movement was ranting and raving into the media spotlight, New York poet Hal Sirowitz was getting the most attention for being the antithesis. "I was the complete opposite of a typical slam poet. While they would jump up and down, I would try to stand totally still." And while other poets in these competitions would bellow about life in the ghettos or their sexual conquests or some other one-upmanship, Sirowitz, the obedient Jewish son, would relate the hilarious advice his mother gave him about life.

Sirowitz's unique and refreshing style was embraced by many, and he released a book called Mother Said to critical acclaim and commercial success. A couple of years later he released a book called My Therapist Said. Now, Soft Skull Press has published Before, During, and After, which reads like a wicked mix of Woody Allen and Dr. Ruth. Obviously there are hilarious moments in the new collection, but there's also an odd beauty, as in "Round & Round The Circle We Go": "Our not having slept together,/she said, may be a problem/for you, but is a godsend for me./For once I don't feel like/I have to rush into a relationship,/but can spend time circling/around it, like an airplane/waiting to land."

When Sirowitz began reading at open mics in 1979, he admits it took him awhile to find a voice. "No one would look at me. They never wanted to say how bad I was. I tried to write like Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith, and it just wasn't me. I couldn't quite do it, and then I woke up one morning and realized I had this interesting mother, and I could just write in her voice and that's basically what got me going; writing in other people's voices and not trying to pretend I was something I wasn't."

Hal's book tour has him paired--odd couple-like--with celebrated lesbian poet Daphne Gottleib. "I think we're both challenging gender and our roles. She challenges the concept of the seductive woman and I challenge the concept of the macho man, except I'm not macho." KEVIN SAMPSELL

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