Sunday, July 20, 2014

All You Ask For Is Longing - New and Selected Poems - Sean Thomas Dougherty (BOA Editions Ltd.)

Today's book of poetry:
All You Ask For Is Longing.  New and Selected Poems.  Sean Thomas Dougherty.  BOA Editions Ltd.  Rochester, NY.  2014.

Terrance Hayes hears Lorca in the poetry of Sean Thomas Dougherty, O'Hara and Akhmatova as well. And I guess they are in here but the truth of it is — of the three (and I have read some of each), I'm only really familiar with Anna Akhmatova.

What I hear in All You Ask For Is Longing is a very eloquent Charles Bukowski with some top notch Raymond Carver type editing.

At Mike's Pub and Grub

        Free coffee and donuts every morning at six a.m.
                                  from an advertisement in
                                  Manchester Union Leader, 1991

They're not the best—
These day-old stale
Diameters of dough—but
The coffee's good
And the waitress's
Grimace is only the thin
Disguise of grace
Amid grease;
She carries an empty pot
By the truck driver
As he wipes vanilla cream
From his thick mustache,
The laid-off machinist
Inhaling French twists,
And the two bums
With no teeth, politely
Asking for jellies;
It looks as if that Great American
Edward Hopper himself might've
Painted this gathering
At the corner of Lake
And Pine—the streetlight,
The stools, the truck
Driver's tip left behind
On his plate: two dimes.


These poems are Andrew Wyeth precise and Richard Pryor sharp.  There is so much to admire in this collection.  Dougherty mixes it up with prose poems, list poems, it doesn't matter—at this level of excellence it is all first rate.

Dear L, The Moon is White and Blue as Ripped-up Lottery Tickets

A door without desire, a distant light.  What I am soon the fire
escape from a third-story flat, a falling thing.  A radio from a high
window spilling Salsa onto the street.  What power no one could
impede or spell is what they fear and make our hell.  What requiem
recoils through the winding wind and perhaps a word withheld.
The labor of being obediently alive?  When I was so old so I could
not stand after my shift, I once worked a summer laying sod.  We
worked at different speeds, but sometimes I looked up from the
black earth to see us bending our backs together.  Our foreman
cursed us for moving slow.  Paid too little under the table.  How
many shifts without a name or number?  It touches my shoulder
and I know that I have changed.  We do not have one life in this
life we have so many we could think we have reached the afterlife
and returned as the damned.  Dog shit frozen on the lawn that
winter I left my wife, when my son was small, and I would carry
him through the slush, pressing his face into my chest.  What secret
lament?  What is the child in the park chanting?  I am little more
than a tiny cloud lost in a giant blue sky.  To lie on the grass without
fear of police and stare at the clouds.  The long invisible chains we
carry.  One must be careful not to kiss grief.  The cars come and go
like the women talking of Michelangelo.  My neighbor's oldest son
is dealing drugs.  We run with our arms outstretched wide.  But I
am a leaf tumbling along the lake, I tell my daughter.  In the bar
I wipe the counter of spilled beer of men in suits I want to knife.
My neighbor works the second shift at the frozen food factory.
He works until his hands are raw and bleed.  We the invisible, we
the beggars, we they call losers and cheats and lazy, with our 12-
hours shifts, with our long staring factory gaze.  Scarcely even a
murmur of smoke, rising from a chimney, the way it squints and
curls the way sorrow winds itself across and through our chests.
Mail this to the office of the Ambassador of Laments.  More and
more we do not see, how can we?  What is a child's hand reaching
on the 59th Street subway platform?  What is a cobblestone to a
bare foot?  The gypsy children are begging in the morning light of
the old city.  Both our daughters asleep in their beds.  The moon is
white and blue as ripped-up lottery tickets.  I am without a name
or faraway as this country I can no longer claim without sorrow.
Against the dread the motel signs release their neon to the night.  I
want to tell you the opposite of dread, but I keep driving off the
road to get there.  We found another bullet at the playground today.
My daughter and I like to walk on the train tracks and balance
with our arms outstretched.  How many bullet-strewn bodies does
my Bosnian neighbor carry?  The moon is but a lamentation.  Or
an eye, watching us.  As we die.  Across the roofs of the sky, I pick
up the butts he leaves after dark, chain-smoking alone on the
curb.  What star is his witness?  I want to tell you something more,
something to carry us out of this shit.  But the dirt and grime is like
a grease I cannot wash off my hands.  My daughter is five.  In the
backyard I teach her how to throw a jab, lean her shoulder into
the hook, when all she wants to do is imitate the starlings.  What
we can recall is what travels with us.  The old comic books of our
childhoods.  The dead on street corners and the ditch.  How casual
such great suffering becomes with time.  I push my daughter in a
swing.  I run a comb through her tangled hair.  When we lay down
on the lawn, side by side and squint up at the clouds, I become a
fire truck, a penguin, a unicorn, a fish—whatever she draws with
the outstretched pencil of her fingertip.  We we close our eyes,
she becomes the one word the grass sighs.


If you don't think that is a great poem please stop reading my blog!  Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts" is echoed all through there and masterfully.

Dougherty's poetry has an authority that it both demands and breathes.  This work gives tremendous respect to the lives of those people who shape these poems and respects the demands of the readers. Done and done.

Sean Thomas Dougherty is in rare company.  Here's my convoluted compliment to the man (whom I've never met):  the best poet to ever grace the silver screen was Paul Newman's "Fast Eddie Felson".
When Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) tells Eddie that he shoots a good game of pool—you know it is true with a clarity, a certainty.  I call on the poet Gods to proclaim loudly, "Mr. Dougherty, you play a real cool game".


Why are you frowning? Unfold out your palms: you've trained me

You are quietly resting all morning on the window of what I did wrong: come look outside, I say, come hear what you've never heard:

You are all the way home I looked your way and you didn't become the music

You are not the I you say, I am: you are the orchard and the pool hall and the ink

You are somehow the one written who went before I could not spell what

You are saying, and the dealers outside shouting: and the rain scribbling curses against the screen

You are not the constellation of shotgun holes in the wall

You are and one of us will continue

You are the first time a hotel room, Times Square long after midnight, the banished places the pimps were sent, the joint we shared by the basketball court, and the shard of glass you held up to the moon by the East River

You are unbuttoning my body

You are coffee and oranges in autumn, hushed recess: the sound of eating candy

You are alone the only voice that can keep me orphaned:

You are a saint's medallion in a small girl's hands

You are the one wrong joy transfigured

You are when there if there is nothing you tell me we can repeat ourselves

You are barefoot running by the blue barn

You are somehow crayon singing:

U r the only letters of the alphabet uninvented

You are the last language I will ever learn


It is rare for me to find a poet I find so utterly pleasing to read, so completely compelled to turn the page, not wanting to leave what I've read behind.  I plowed through All You Ask For is Longing as though it were a dying man's last meal.  Sean Thomas Dougherty is mining a rich vein of pure gold when so many others are playing in the dust.

Sean Thomas Dougherty is the author of twelve books, including Nightshift Belonging to Lorca, a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize; Except by Falling, winner of the 2000 Pinyon Press Poetry Prize from Mesa State College; and his two previous BOA Editions collections, Broken Hallelujahs and Sasha Sings the Laundry on the Line. His awards include a Fulbright Lectureship to the Balkans and two Pennsylvania Council for the Arts Fellowships in Poetry.  Known for his electrifying performances, he has toured extensively across North America and Europe.  He received an MFA in poetry from Syracuse University and lives in Erie, Pennsylvania, where he works at Gold Crown Billiards.

Sean Thomas Dougherty reading his poem "Against Grief"

"Sean Thomas Dougherty's poems vibrate with 'red and blue braids of light', in a voice that resonates and transports. Arresting, precise imagery from a poet of grand and memorable vision, this is the gypsy punk heart of American poetry."
     —Dorianne Laux

"Dougherty's brave poems transport us to the fault lines of our lives...where Kundera and Lorca meet the world of the holding cell and the chain-link fence."
     —Jan Beatty

"The poems of Sean Thomas Dougherty are full of intelligence and energy, myth and music, moving in surreal, jagged streams. There is a remarkable range of references here, from Edith Piaf to Biggie Smalls, from Jackson Pollock to Killer Kowalski. Above all, however, there is empathy, that essential element of poetry and humanity, for a dying grandfather, for the insomniacs of the city, for all the forgotten histories the poet cannot forget. To him I say: Keep singing."
     —Martin Espada

"These soul-infused, deftly crafted stanzas pulse with the rhythms of a poet who lives his life out loud. Sean Thomas Dougherty has always shunned convention in favor of is fresher landscapes—and this book will be the one that stamps his defiant signature on the
     —Patricia Smith

"Yes, these poems glow with what is most tender in Lorca, but they also strut with what is most wiseass in O'Hara; they brood with what is most earnest in Akhmatova. In this book, one hears the footsteps of all the teachers and friends and loved ones and strangers that people Sean Thomas Dougherty's mind (the blood's library) and heart (the blood's dancehall)."
     —Terrance Hayes


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