Sunday, April 21, 2019

There It Is: New & Selected Poems - Michael Casey (Loom Press)

Today's book of poetry:
There It Is: New & Selected Poems. Michael Casey.  Loom Press.  Lowell, Massachusetts.  2017.

There It Is: New and Selected Poems

Today's book of poetry picked up a copy of Michael Casey's Obscenities (Yale University Press, 1972), about two hundred years ago.  Since then we've been wondering what happened to this wildly authentic voice.  Our search is over, Lowell Massachusetts publisher Loom Press sent Today's book of poetry There It Is: New & Selected Poems and we can finally catch up with Michael Casey.

There's a lot of catching up to do.  As far as we can tell Casey has published ten or eleven books/chapbooks.  From what Today's book of poetry sees in There It Is Casey has maintained his down to earth, working man approach to his poetry since he crawled out of the jungle in Vietnam.  Not literally, Today's book of poetry knows nothing of Casey's military service and experience except what is revealed in his first poems.  But he was there and his poems are like televisions where he supplies the narrative.

Today's book of poetry had deep respect for the Casey who wrote Obscenities.  Nothing has changed.  Michael Casey's poems are so crystal clear and free of artifice it almost feels like a trick.  But it is a damned fine one, the reader's connection to Casey's poetry is automatic.  Instantaneous.

forklift driver

the forklift driver
fucked up the elevator again
he tried to drive the forklift in it
when the door was close
this is the third day in a row
something like that happened
I'd say to him
don't even bother ta punch out
just leave
it'd be worth the week's pay or so
just to get rid of him
do you know how important
that fuckin elevator is?
Lou is yellin all over for yarn
because he can't get it
and this is holding up the knitting room
napping room and the whole place
gonna be backed up now
they tell me Lou
is pissin and moanin up there
like he was pissin razor blades


This next poem is one that Today's book of poetry remembers from our first Casey experience, back when we read Obscenities all those years ago.  I never forgot it.  

Michael Casey can stay with you.

a bummer

we were going single file
through his rice paddies
and the farmer
started hitting the lead track
with a rake
he wouldn't stop
and TC went to talk to him
and the farmer
tried to hit him too
so the tracks went sideways
side by side
through the guy's fields
instead of single file
Hard On, Proud Mary
Bummer, Wallace, Rosemary's Baby
The Rutgers Road Runner
Go Get em—Done Got Em
went side by side
through the fields
  if you have a farm in Vietnam
and a house in hell
sell the farm
and go home


Michael Casey writes poems as though he'd mastered ventriloquism.  Every voice he assumes in these poems feels real and true, sounds it too.  Casey has acquired some mad dark knowledge over the years and he knows how our hearts work.

Yet There It Is is populated with characters we all know because we live with them all around us in our daily lives.  These people, these feelings, are universal.  Michael Casey isn't above kicking your feet out from under you to make a necessary point.  At the same time Today's book of poetry sees a sense of humour of heroic measure.

the wall board knife

Armand's son read
an article somewhere
unscrupulous contractors
are building houses so cheaply 
with fiberboard
that any crook
can break in
not through a door or window
but just using a wall board knife
and cutting through siding
and particle board
very easily
Armand related this to me
before his son
went to the sneezer in Billerica
but I was curious
so I ask a contractor acquaintance
someone building two million dollar
condos in Concord
does he use
cheap fiberboard in construction?
right away he says no
and then he adds
not when anyone's looking


The only problem Today's book of poetry had with Michael Casey and There It Is is that now we want/need to find the rest of his excellent work.  Milo, our head tech and pseudo-librarian, has been properly tasked.  Milo thought that Casey rocked and insisted on leading our morning reading.

Today's book of poetry is slowly getting back on track.  We did want to share and celebrate with our readership, Today's book of poetry is currently getting over 1,000 readers a day.  We recently clawed our way past 500,000 readers.  

There It Is may be the biggest surprise in our recent reading.  As much as Today's book of poetry was looking forward to reading Michael Casey's Selected..., we felt rewarded way beyond our expectations.

diction a detriment to the working class

she used to be our neighbor
but they moved away to a bigger house
and I babysat when she was nearby
one child then
and I babysat when she moved
two children later
to a monster house
three car garage
into none of which
would the Hummer fit
she knew the going rate
one dollar per hour per child
she always rounded down
one hour fifteen minutes
would be paid as one hour
it grated though
but jobs are jobs
so I get the call one day
they drove me there and back
and while there
her aunt shows
with her four children
I am there
for three hours twenty minutes
and she gave me three big ones
next time she called
I declined and she was really mad
I mean I was the one cheated
you know that right?
however in retrospect
I should not have said
fuck you and your auntie too
well I guess


Michael Casey's poems are honest and true and necessary.  There It Is is a new favourite in the Today's book of poetry offices.   And a future classic.

Michael Casey

Michael Casey is from Lowell, Massachusetts, and attended the public schools in that city. He received a B.S. degree in physics in 1968 from University of Massachusetts-Lowell, where poet William Aiken taught the modern poetry course. Drafted that year, Casey became a military policeman in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and later in Landing Zone Bayonet, Quang Ngai Province, Vietnam, with the Americal Division. The journal of his military experience became the book,Obscenities, published in 1972 by the Yale University Press. His book, Millrat, on blue collar work in a textile mill dye house has been published by Adastra Press. Casey taught for many years at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

The publication of Michael Casey's New and Selected Poems, with his quirky portraits of ordinary Americans, is an event to celebrate. Like a photographer snapping pictures relentlessly, he must have written a poem about everyone he ever met with dead-on realism. Compared to him, the Spoon River Anthology is a work for kiddies. If Robert Frost was a poet of the rural New Englander, Michael Casey, also a New Englander, brings to life his mill town background, the guys who didn't go on to college and the larger world, but married the girls they dated in high school and got jobs in the mill. When he's sent to Vietnam he captures his fellow soldiers in their own military jargon. A master of the vernacular, he forces one to question writing in the 'correct' language when so many of us speak it quite differently, the language we think and feel in. Rare among poets, he's willing to explore colloquial speech in all its messiness, and gets it down perfectly – in fact, he's got us all down spot on. This collection, with its wide range of voices, is a unique achievement.”
     — Edward Field, author of The Man Who Would Marry Susan Sontag and After the Fall: Poems Old and New

“I first heard Michael Casey read these poems on a July evening in New Hampshire long ago while the war in Vietnam was still a tremendous confusion and sorrow for all of us and the poems made sense of it in a new way. My writer father had discovered that our summer neighbor was a poet and had invited him to read to us. I was stunned by the power of the language, the great-heartedness of the poems, the way Casey was not afraid to write about how men act under pressure, the way he used ordinary words to describe extraordinary feelings.
Now I read the poems in a New York City apartment in a time that seems as confusing as the 1970’s. Michael Casey’s poems changed as he went back to work after the war and later when he moved north, but their power is undiminished. He is tough but the poems are tender. These are poems that grab you by the heart and refuse to let you go. Read them!”
      – Susan Cheever, author of Drinking in America: Our Secret History and E.E. Cummings: A Life

“These are wonderfully droll, deadpan poems, like slyly condensed short stories, with an eye for the tellingly absurd detail and an ear for the oddities of everyday speech.”
      — Michael Foley, author of The Age of Absurdity and Isn’t This Fun: Investigating the Serious Business of Enjoying Ourselves

Doug Holder interviews Michael Casey
Video: Doug Holder


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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