Saturday, September 28, 2019

Three String Ukulele — Luke MacLean (845 Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Three String Ukulele.  Luke MacLean.  845 Press.  London, Ontario.  2018.

Today's book of poetry is Three String Ukulele by the Montreal varmint Luke MacLean.  This tasty little chapbook did not arrive at the Today's book of poetry offices via the normal channels.  Three String Ukulele arrived through the long arms of John Creary, then beat the snot out of the rest of the days mail, sat down like it owned the place.

Luke MacLean has wit to spare but under that slacker facade he's all warm and fuzzy.  He sounds like he's spitting nails but he's really just gargling with Cutty Sark.

Self-Portrait with Matte Finish

Most mornings my story is a crumpled face over a stout mug of
black coffee and the mathematical reality of the Habs' win/loss col-
umn. On a good morning it's the glacial flow of maple syrup atop
thick Belgian waffles or a Frisbee cutting through open air and into
the cleft of a snapping palm. Just yesterday, it was my crooked spine
with a knack for a paperback pocket, then a smile from a femme in
dark sunglasses and my eager shadow gaining on the heels of a pull-
tab embrace. But tonight, my story was left feeling idle. Not like a
sailboat on stilts or a lover growing smaller from the view of a west-
bound train. You didn't sign up for that and you're probably curious
about the femme in dark sunglasses. So when I said idle, I was
thinking more of a September sun fleeting from 'a landscape whose
drama couldn't be captured in a painting,' as she so aptly remarked
while framing my portrait in the viewfinder of her French camera,
so that I may be forever touched by the final rays of light slipping
up my legs. Never one to cradle the reader, my story has been 
known to take a sharp turn at times, to ready the dark horse or to
shake a snarling antagonist pacing in the shadows of the second act.
At the moment it can be found considering the constructs of a de-
nouement that will never follow an adrenaline-fuelled climax, as
long as my sleeping dog Charlie lies stretched across this kitchen
floor, dreaming of a vista so transparent that she can look out and
see the world.


 "Drinkin in LA" by Bran Van 3000 is blaring out of the box this morning in the Today's book of poetry offices and MacLean didn't seem to mind.  Today's book of poetry found Canadian bacon and Kevin Bacon play important rolls in two poems that appear side by side in Three String Ukulele.  At first Today's book of poetry suspected something greasy was afoot but then we read about Sir Arnold of Palmer and a famous carrot soup and realized MacLean was more than willing to pull our chain, simply because he could.

Chapbooks like Three String Ukulele should be sipped at, with a dark and heavy Italian red by your side.  Read a poem, sip.  Read a poem, sip.  And so on.

Three String Ukulele is a frolic, Luke MacLean throws a lot at us in a few pages, visual poetry, concrete poetry, confessions, obsessions, condemnations.  That's a lot of content for short chapbook but Today's book of poetry will repeat the oft quoted and obviously trite "size doesn't matter."  

MacLean doesn't pause for breath in Three String Ukulele.

Hitchhickers Roll the Best Spliffs

A good hitchhiker never adds to the conversation—
lets Marc Maron pull the sailboat from the bottle.

An ideal hitchhiker can fill in for Ringo
on an August night at Candlestick
or Beethoven in Berlin any time before the silence.

But mostly they are small children again,
licking a sticky candy apple for the first time.

You will never find a suitable hitchhiker
at the Big Stop in Moncton,
toeing the white line of something bigger.

No, they're casting flies off the banks of the Miramichi.
Coaxing curious salmon
with Ted Williams and their deadest grandfather.

Yes, their attention fades like jet stream
across an ocean-blue sky,
but they are a wonder-full audience.

Between curled brow and a Sussex cow, they can patiently sit
as you accurately describe
your newborn baby's dream.


Luke MacLean sounds like a born story-teller and Today's book of poetry was instantly willing to following wherever MacLean wanted to go.  We've always been suckers for optimism here at Today's book of poetry and MacLean sneaks in his fair share of sunshine along with required intense brooding.

What Today's book of poetry really liked was that we felt at home in MacLean world, immediately, it felt familiar.  It's astonishing when poetry can take you out of yourself and your own world, out of your own prejudices, blind spots and so on — but it is equally rewarding and comforting when we read poetry that makes Today's book of poetry feel like we are in a friend's kitchen.  We'll settle for that trick any day.

And of course it is not a trick and of course it is not just any kitchen, but Mr. MacLean can burn, it is one of those sorts of kitchens.

What Blues Singers Never Tell You

          Upon awakening to the consequence of bourbon,
I gently slip beneath the happenstance of a slumbering limbo queen
 and trudge towards the sun-drenched kitchen, where cool ceramic
                whisks waking life from the memory of a dream,

                      in which I traversed the Sahara via camel
                 until the poor fella came to a halt, lazily turned
                 and asked if I had any water left in my canteen.
              The faint hush of the desert was so encompassing

                 that the once-flickering buzz of the refrigerator
                     now pulsates like a busy sewing machine
                         and a few Aspirin in a plastic bottle
                      echo like a squash court in my hand/head.

           In the rec room beneath me, one of my guests has taken
           to clearing empties from my fun-soaked ping-pong table
                    with the delicate grace of a swirling wind chime
                              in the thick of a sweltering hurricane.

                         With a pair of shaky mitts and a resolve
                      to soften the allure of the present, I manage
                     to grasp a frosty Moosehead from the Singer
                  and place two squash balls in my parched fun box,

                                   where brisk, flowing ale
                            soothes tongue, throat and then belly.
                        Mapping my insides like a plumber's snake
                        or a skein of thread in an ancient labyrinth.


Today's book of poetry is reminded of the great Australian poet Banjo Patterson's poem "The Man From Snowy River."  That poem was made into an excellent film back in 1982.  The reason Today's book of poetry remembers the movie at this particular time is a scene where just prior to departing the Man From Snowy River comments to a friend, "you're welcome at my fire anytime."

Hey Luke MacLean, we talked it over after the morning read, it was unanimous, you're welcome at our fire any time.


Luke MacLean

Luke MacLean lives in Montreal where he works as a hairstylist. His writing has appeared in Geist, Der Greif, Paper Darts, Newfoundland Quarterly & Unbridled: an anthology of cowboy poetry.  See more of his work at

Three-String Ukulele is uproarious. And frisky. And slyly alive. These poems weave through wordplay and somersault through the wonder and surprise of language and life. MacLean has mastered the serenade with sidewalk chalk. He drags you onto the dance floor, dazzles with wit and insight and leaves you keeled over begging for more. This is a fresh and funny collection.
     —John Creary, author of Escape from Wreck City

Full of desire, wordplay, and grapefruit sunsets, the poems in Luke MacLean’s Three-String Ukulele turn the stuff of everyday experience into an allusive music that’s perfect for the skate park or just sitting on the stoop with your friends, watching the world roll by.
    —Aaron Kreuter, author of You and Me, Belonging and Arguments for Lawn Chairs


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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