Monday, November 21, 2016

Pacific Standard Time - Kevin Opstedal (Ugly Duckling Presse)

Today's book of poetry:
Pacific Standard Time.  Kevin Opstedal.  Ugly Duckling Presse.  Brooklyn, New York.  2016.

Pacific Standard Time

Dick Dale & the Deltones are handling the soundtrack for this smooth surfing opus so hang onto something.  Keven Opstedal is someone we've never seen before here at Today's book of poetry and that is a shame.  Opstedal has been pounding out small press magic since at least 1985 from the Californian coast and Pacific Standard Time is absolutely ripe with small masterpieces.

Kevin Opstedal's rambling narrative style is a surfer's relaxed patois that he razor/laser focuses on the world, of course that surfer would have had to read Keats, Yeats, Coleridge, Bukowski, Kerouac and so on.  Opstedal is sharp and nonchalant at the same time, his reasoned voice seems familiar, he sounds like someone you think you know, or would like to - but you certainly never know what's coming.

Curse of the Surf Zombie

The late afternoon sky was like something
Miss Montana 1979 spilled on her bikini
out near the ice machine
at the Sea Garden Motel
in Pismo
       & the light was all
              nickels & dimes
                              dancing across the pavement
inside the sound of gears grinding
       just a block from the beach

The sunset haze
              reaching for the
                          pulse of the tide
                                      w/compression dings
                                      in silver mist
                                                propped against a chainlink fence
it was like the Ark of the Covenant
dissolving in a shot glass...

Still there is that light & heavy wind to contend with
& a dusty swimming pool blue turquoise sky rocking
all the way back to the Land of the Dead
w/a few thin clouds feathering out
as though they had something to say but thought better of it

a sheet of silk torn right down the middle

if knowing what knowing might be would make any difference

The tree fern whispers out the side of its mouth like Elvis
in his decline & you set aside the machete
& plunge your wrists into the beaded foam

Seagulls calling from the jetty speak the same language as Aeschylus
though w/an accent that is straight from the surf ghetto

Palm trees hovering live divine sculpture
begging for more as if it was the only way to pinpoint the
exact coordinates that will transport us to the
here & now

A norteño accordion tuning up at the bottom of the sea...

        Sheet music fluttering in the breeze...

                       Samuel Taylor Coleridge/Pacific Gas & Electric

Any meaning other than it so encumbers recognition
like a red Corvette driven straight off the pier

         "There's more concrete in the world than there are good waves"

I was spilling the last glass of water in California
translated from English into Japanese into Arabic into Klingon
& back into English

          "It all makes sense if you stand back & look at it from a distance"

I wore dark glasses beneath a desperate haircut & the
cypress trees were huddled above the beach like the Women of Thebes

           (the sky breaking open behind them
                   partly sunny w/a prevailing sense of impending doom

I had to catch the replay in glorious technicolor
all kinds of low-end torque rumbling in transition w/cracked
bells & clarinets washing up onshore with the incoming tide

           A tangle of mist laying flat on the wet sand at the ocean's edge

          Maybe you know what I mean. Maybe you've been there.
          Playing Parmenides to my Heraclitus. A not quite harmonic
          convergence. Drinks were served out on the veranda.
          I preferred the rain puddles in the parking lot.

                 A fistful of sand & a rippling curtain of mist
                 is about all I'm going to need for the forseeable, I said

Standing in line at the beer store "looming" as maybe Frankenstein's
monster might on a Friday night in S. Cruz. I couldn't begin to tell you
& I won't even try weaving among the shadows. The vault of heaven is
wide open & the stars assume you know the name of every constellation
from Andromeda to Vulpecula, but that doesn't mean you can find your
car keys. The palm trees rattle their bones & a light seabreeze fucking
w/your equilibrium has you doing your best Joe Cocker imitation right
there in the parking lot. Just one of the many obstacles you'll encounter
along the path of least resistance.

Slick liquid neon palette of sunset still lingering in the heavy Pacific sky

X-number of gulls like
        hours, moments, dreams, picking up speed
               & putting it down again

        The fogmist like a leadweight
                              holds the beach in place
               when everything else is falling from your
                                         bulletproof kimono

               representing something that will remain
                              casually unresolved
               locked away where the seabreeze goes
                                        returning the sky to its default settings

& late night early morning ocean fog swamps the streets

        the wet sidewalk is as dark as your eyes by now

                Lights flickering along the pier
                already under water

                                little left to the imagination / more than enough

(you know & I know) the tempo of the Dharma
is not always so easy to dance to

          The Temple of the Drama used to be up at
          RCA Beach, it was made out of drift-
          wood & sand & the vague feeling that we were invincible

                   if I remember right I held your hand on the way down

& I made detailed drawings of your tattoos but
I can't show them to you because they are mine now
& this is how I will love you


Today's book of poetry simply marvelled at the partial list of books and chapbooks produced by Kevin Opstedal.  Only the irrepressible Rob McLennan could possibly compete with this sort of output.  Rob McLennan, an Ottawa institution, has over 30 books and an unknowable number of chapbooks out there in the wide world.  Take a look at this list by Opstedal.

Kamikaze Blvd,
Sand in the Vaseline
Like Rain
The Road to Hollywood is Paved with Tacks & Suicide
Beach Blanket Massacre
Next to Dreaming, or The Phone Never Rang
9th & Ocean
Variable High Cloudiness
Nine Palms
Radio Beach
Heavy Water
Straight Up & Down
The Deep End
El Tsunami
Coastal Disturbances (Bikini Machine)
400 Hawaiian Shirts
Minus Tide
Double Impact
On The Low
Rare Surf, Vol. 2: New and Used Poems
User's Manual to the Pacific Coast Highway
Saltwater Credentials
Santa Cruz
Maybe Ocean Street
Deja Voodoo
Drainpipe Sessions
California Redemption Value
Memory Foam
The Poetikal Works of Dude the Obscure
Curse of the Surf Zombie

That old Kevin Opstedal is a tricky slick dude.  The reader is lulled into West Coast comfort, swimming at the edge of knowable civilization and then this Duane Eddy loving, cultural magpie and mystic starts dropping word bombs that burst delightful.

Today's book of poetry has a new poet we will be name dropping into every conversation.  Pacific Standard Time is one of those finds that reminds this reader of why he loves poetry.  To use the parlance, Today's book of poetry is a Barney, no doubt about it, but reading Opstedal leaves the reader Choka.

Bring Me the Head of Eddie Vedder

I had loaned her my crown of thorns
& before she gave it back she had it
cleaned & sharpened for me

The wind raking the eucalyptus
blue turquoise green & tinsel
raw beach concrete

& the 36 chainsmoking buddhas in my hip pocket
were preaching a kind of punk compassion I
could really learn to dance to

Like a message in lipstick scrawled
onto a tidepool mirror
nobody knows what it means but
everyone understands it'll break if you
drop it which is what keeps us
coming back for more

The girl with the crucified seagull
tattooed on her back
said she knew something I didn't

She told me where it was but I had to find it myself

My skull packed with wet sand
pure as the driven foam


Kevin Opstedal poetry machine-gunned our office this morning.  After this morning's read there were bodies strewn about the floor, camps were organized and diligent pressure brought to bear.  Milo, our head tech, wanted a particular grouping of poems, Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, had other priorities and choose an entirely different grouping.  I was stranded by some crazy high-water mark with ten poems or so that I couldn't live without.  An impasse was not passed.  We had to drag Max, our Sr. Editor, out of his warren and set him to the task.  As a result all of Today's book of poetry's inefficiencies can be blamed on good old Max.

You can send any complaints straight to me, I know how to handle them.

Cadillac to Mexico

We are as clouds that veil the 11:00 News, applying pressure to a
ruptured artery, stripping the paint off a 50 gallon drum full of Marlon
Brando's performance in On the Waterfront. The chainlinked molecules
of spring are waiting with crowbars & baseball bats. That was back
when I wore bellbottoms & beads & hung my head in shame. I thought
I had to explain myself as though there was still something left to prove.
My mistake. I meant to say Last Tango in Paris -- the final scene shot
in a parking lot in Juarex just south of the Olympic Blvd off-ramp.
November had sliced the ankles of the moon. Wind thrashing in the
trees the way a drowning man might gasp for air drawing in a lungful of
water. And in April we drove out to the beach to poison ourselves with
the sunset.


Today's book of poetry could play the Kevin Opstedal poetry game all day long.  Pacific Standard Time is a whale of a book in the poetry world coming in at well over 200 pages - not nearly big enough for his new audience here.

Kevin Opstedal will renew your enthusiasm for poetry.

Image result for kevin opstedal photo
Kevin Opstedal

Born and raised in Venice, California, Kevin Opstedal is a poet whose line leaves three decades of roadcuts across the entire imaginary West. His twelve books and chapbooks include two full-length collections, Like Rain (Angry Dog Press, 1999) and California Redemption Value (Uno Press, 2011), and his Blue Books Press, one of many of his "sub-radar" editorships, belongs in the same breath as the great California poetry houses (Auerhahn, Big Sky, Oyez...) that his own poems seem to conjure like airbrushed flames on a lemon carrying Ed Dorn, Joanne Kyger, Ted Berrigan, and some wide-eyed poetry neophyte to a latenite card game in Bolinas. “His poems,” writes Lewis MacAdams, “are hard-nosed without being hard-hearted.” As identity and ideas duke it out in the back-alley of academia, Opstedal surfs an oil slick off Malibu into the apocalypse of style.

No one deserves a comprehensive collection like this more than Kevin Opstedal, a tireless soldier in the fields of contemporary poetry, both as discoverer/editor and as prolific poet. An Olson without mountain, a maximus of the Pacific, Opstedal roams the beaches of Venice or Santa Cruz picking up poems ranging from the sprawling epic of history and pop culture to the compact lyric effusion of observation and feeling. He’s as liable to find a poem ransacking a tiki bar as he is pouring over an inscription on an Etruscan urn, and there’s a superb indifference to poetic fashion in favor of devotion to his own chosen household gods that any poet would do well to aspire to.There’s a moral component here too, a “punk compassion,” as he says, sifting through the detritus of America to extract the gold of time.
    - Garrett Caples

Welcome to Pacific Paradise, where the sky is swept with turquoise red sunsets–and Satan can steal a surfboard. Kevin Opstedal, master of the coastal metaphor, rides through the drama of these poems confident of where his heart is—"lapped and pummeled" by Pacfic waves. His poems take center stage in the drama of the surf zone. Take a bow, Kevin.
     - Joanne Kyger

For decades Kevin Opstedal has kept the underground lit as prolific poet, surfer, printer of books by many and correspondent to all. A chameleon of classic styles, his poems are as vital as the water we drink. Filtered through a wave of narcotic clarity and witful nonchalance, Pacific Standard Time shows us that he's capable of doing whatever the poem asks, any time / any place.
     - Micah Ballard


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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