Saturday, June 10, 2017

Navy Blue - Steve Meagher (Guernica Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
Navy Blue.  Steve Meagher.  First Poets Series 15.  Guernica Editions.  Toronto - Buffalo - Lancaster (U.K.).  2016.

"Begging penance for his necessary sin"
      - from Have You Seen Him

George Elliott Clarke mentions Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Marshall McLuhan when attempting to describe the poetry of Steve Meagher.  Not to make this about Today's book of poetry but now is as good a time as any to admit that we here in this office are all members of the George Elliott Clarke fan club - and one time, a long time ago, Today's book of poetry was lucky enough to share a few beers with Sir George of Elliott Clarke at the original Ottawa Royal Oak Inn.  Those beers were probably before Mr. Meagher was born.

As much as Today's book of poetry admires Mr. Clarke we think he got it a little wrong.  If we had to compare Meagher's poetry to anyone  it would be the troubadour of tasty trauma Tom Waits.  That's if Tom Waits were spending a lot of time with the ghost of Richard Brautigan.  Dark wisdom and lyrical splendor from Waits, sweet, tortured and innocent ala Brautigan.

New Saints

Cowboy knows all the shortcuts
He can hop the black fence without stopping
He showed me how to throw a perfect spiral
He's been David's best friend since kindergarten

Scarecrow's brave like a fugitive
He French-kissed Rebecca J. in the catwalk
Told me she tasted like Orange Crush
I saw him smoke a cigarette once
It smelled something like a forest fire
Next day he showed us his brother's magazines

Shark Tooth's got a pair of nunchucks
They came in the mail from Tokyo
His dropkicks are real deadly
He can do cartwheels over the creekbed
He knows how to slay the dragons

Ezekial was my partner at Science Fair
He's quiet as a June bug
He can't come out on Saturdays
His mom keeps him in to study his lessons

Sweet Baby's the smallest
I swear he's full of cobra blood
He threw that rock from a mile away
Hit the sixth grader straight between the eyes
He's the greatest there is
When we ride our bikes to the snack bar
We never even stop for cars

Tin Man's brains don't work right
Some nights he won't stop screaming
About how he shot Hakeem
How he caught the itch
How everybody's gotta come from somewhere
He comes round like the wind
I can hear him from my bedroom
When he's gone I breathe again

Jackson's got the switchblade
He stole it from the Chinaman
He keeps it tucked in his belt loop
Uses it to lop the heads off bullfrogs

Banjo's some kind of genius
He can do his times-tables backwards
Even the sevens and nines
he's gonna be a doctor someday
Most likely he's gonna cure cancer
I give him Oreos to do my fractions

Got In The Log knows some things
He knows the hidden tunnel
All the sweet-spots in the forest
He knows about the beehives and the helicopter leaves
But he don't like being bothered
Me and Sweet Baby are the only ones who visit

There's Moreno he's Mexican
His face looks like a map of Missouri
He killed a black girl once
We found her body in the branches
He's the reason I'm not allowed across the train tracks

David can sing like Frank Sinatra
He's got two pet salamanders
Their names are Dale and Swiss Army Knife
He's the fastest runner in the whole school
Sometimes he gives me beats
But he's still a good big brother
He makes sure nobody fucks with me

I can skip a rock five times easy
I can wallop your nastiest curve
Mostly my mind knocks like a woodpecker
I got the tadpole's shadow on my arm
When I grow up I'm gonna be big time
I'm gonna find my father
I'm gonna make my mother love me
I'm gonna shine like Christmas morning
Don't even try to stop me


Sometimes comparisons don't do anyone justice.  Meagher gives us plenty to think about without the comparisons and he does it with panache.  Nothing about Navy Blue feels like a first book.  Meagher has polished these poems till they shine.

Now for some more comparisons.  Meagher's poetry universe is full of great characters that you are going to remember.  Sweet Baby and Banjo conjure up visions/memories of Sodapop and Ponyboy from S.E. Hinton's most excellent novel The Outsiders.  There is a measure sense of menace just under the skin of Navy Blue.  Meagher never comes across as rough or vulgar but he keeps a particular tension that captures the reader, keeps the reader on alert.

Philadelphia Woman

She grew up off South 22nd
Her tongue's got ties in Memphis
She is daughter of the Iron Brigade
She breaks bread with the packrats

There's a shoebox in her closet
Full of Pennsylvania minerals
Years back her father was a collector

The radio's locked on 1060
She keeps up with the weather
Switches to Coltrane after dinner

When the heavy rains fall
She wraps her wrists in grapevine
Her landscapes hang like criminals
They know December's darker roads

She writes longhand letters
Sends them to the man in Fresno
He never calls or writes back
And that's the way she likes it

There are memories she holds
Like grenades with the pins pulled
The worst nights crack like battlefields

When the phone rings
I already know it's her
Only she would call so late
To ask about my broken wings


Today's book of poetry was instantly comfortable in Meagher's poetry world.  These poems are immediately accessible and that is something we like a lot.  Meagher is generous and playful, even when his poetry is serious as a heart attack.  We like that too.

Our morning read was as perfect as today's weather here in Ottawa.  We opened all the windows in the Today's book of poetry offices and passed Navy Blue around like a new talisman we were learning to believe in.

Reading Navy Blue is mining a very rich vein, rich enough that we were able to find another splendid list poem.  Regular readers of Today's book of poetry will remember how fond we are of list poems. This one is exemplary, this one came directly from beneath the poets fingernails, the real dirt.

Peter's Dream

The way things used to be
When I wanted a bedtime story
Grandpa would read me the Bible
The Old Testament gave me nightmares

I dreamed I was an Egyptian
With the lizards falling on my head
I dreamed I was a sinner
And the punishment on its way
I dreamed I was Isaac on the mountain
And Abraham had the knife
I dreamed so much
I even dreamed I was the apple

But I don't get stories anymore
Nowadays Grandpa just says goodnight
Then he shuts the door
And I'm alone all of a sudden
So now when I dream it comes like a hurricane
And I don't know how to stop it

I dreamed all the riverfish turned up dead
I dreamed the eastwind broke my pole in two
I dreamed the world was on fire
And our house was burning
And Grandpa was inside taking a nap
And the smoke was in his clothes
I dreamed I stepped in broken glass
And the coyotes could smell my blood
I dreamed I was a soldier
And the Nazis were after me
And I was hiding in a pile of bodies
And I was too scared to breathe
And I could taste the skin
I dreamed I was a madman
I dreamed I was a scientist
I dreamed I was a leper
And I was living in the canyons
I dreamed I was a cannibal
And I bit off Banjo's ear
And spit it in the lake
And it floated like a lilypad
And the catfish fed till morning
I dreamed I kissed the Bag Lady
And my tongue went black and swollen
I dreamed I was being born
With a rattlesnake round my throat
I dreamed a knife in my back
I dreamed a pistol in my pocket
And a thousand of blind children
I dreamed the North Star spoke my name
I dreamed I was in the medicine show
And my mouth shot dust in Cowboy's face
I dreamed it was next Sunday
And I was in church
And the preacher was a cyclops
And he had horns the size of fence posts
I dreamed I was real sick
And my hair was falling out
And the nurse kept feeding me Jell-O
I dreamed Sweet Baby got run over by a truck
So he had no legs
And he wouldn't stop laughing
I dreamed I was dirt poor
And my only friends were gypsies
I dreamed I climbed the tallest birch
And I couldn't get back down
I dreamed I ate a spider for supper
And it laid eggs inside my stomach
I dreamed a horse kicked me in the belly
And it hurt so bad I crapped blood
I dreamed I was Tarzan
I dreamed I was King Arthur
I dreamed I was combing the hairs on Grandpa's chest
I dreamed the killer was licking my fingers
I dreamed I was catching water in a bucket
And it felt like early spring
And the lightning bolts were lasers
And the raindrops hit the metal like a hummingbird
I dreamed I had the shotgun
And the pigs were in the shed waiting
I dreamed I saw David naked
And he got real mad
And said we wasn't brothers no more
I dreamed I was dead at high noon
I dreamed the hangman was my father
But my mother was an angel
So I met her minutes later


Books like Steve Meagher's Navy Blue are exactly why Today's book of poetry is in business.  Poetry like this needs to be shared.  Poetry this vibrant can make your body hum, it hits a register that your senses can't ignore.  We are silly human beans who spend so much time looking for truth we don't always recognize it.  Here's a chance.

Steve Meagher, well, I'll remember that name.  Read Navy Blue and you will remember it too.

Steve Meagher
Steve Meagher

Steve Meagher grew up in Oakville, Ontario. His poems have appeared in Carousel, The Nashwaak Review and Ottawa Arts Review. Navy Blue is his first book. He lives in Toronto.

Navy Blue is an exhilarating, guerrilla romp through tabloid news talk and Internet inanity to set up the seditious poetry Marshall McLuhan would’ve written if he could’ve. These poems are a cross of Bob Dylan casual strangeness and Jimi Hendrix bluesy surrealism. (Think “Visions of Johanna” mixed with “My Friend”.) Each line could spin off into its own bizarre screenplay: “The doctor kept cutting / Now the blood was everywhere … / I listened to the crickets / Their prayers sounded like my bicycle.” Nicely, Meagher gives shout-outs to Ray Souster and Irv Layton, claiming their street-wise vernacular and sardonic, ironic insights. But I see a touch of Dick Brautigan here too, in the accomplished insouciance, the freedom to just “say” and have the meaning be in that liberty. Ladies, gents, here’s the new vibe. Ready to be experienced?
     - George Elliott Clarke, Parliamentary Poet Laureate

Steve Meagher's Navy Blue is full of ghost voices, fever dreams, cowboy saints and hard scrabble benediction.
     - Singer-songwriter Jason Collett

Navy Blue
Steve Meagher
Video: Guernica Editions



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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