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REVIEWS

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A.D. Winans, introduction by Jack Hirschman, The Other Side of Broadway. Presa :S: Press, POBox 792, Rockford, MI, 49341, www.presapress.com, ISBN: 0-9772524-5-0, 2007. 131 pages, $18


Way back when, in the early 70's, when I was a neophyte poet trying to negotiate the labyrinthine world of the small presses, I came across the name A.D. Winans. He was running the Second Coming Press then and I was intrigued by some of the outlaw poets he was publishing.  Most of the books I bought back then have disappeared, been stolen, loaned and never returned, or thrown away in a move.  One book I retained, however, ordering additional copies when I was sure it had disappeared yet again, was William Wantling's. 7 On Style.   I have it here now and the words still fly off the page and grab hold of me and shake me to the core.

But I only knew Wantling through his words. Winans was his friend and his tribute poem "For William Wantling" offers a deeply felt elegy for the man who died way too young,
            "Looking into the cracked lips of
            sorrow I walk the harsh streets of
            tomorrow The ghost of my fears
           demanding I face my destiny But I
           am not a graveyard poet"

Indeed, he is not.  Winans is a poet, a man, who survives as so many of his friends and fellow writers did not.  Other elegiac include poems include tributes to suicide d.a. levy, beat poet Bob Kaufmann, W. S. Burroughs and Kenneth Patchen. It is this instinct for survival with a keen eye, that separates Winans from other poets whose light burned brightly and were then snuffed out.

I can't say when I became aware of Winans the poet; it seems as if he has always been writing and publishing poems.   He has professed, in his memoir and elsewhere, that Bukowski was a kind of "hero" despite rejecting him as a friend as he did so many others. Bukowski, for Winans, was the man who taught him what was essential to write about, who showed the way toward making the truest poem possible.

Despite the Bukowski influence, Winans is decidedly his own man.  What he has taken from Bukowski is the spirit of the rebel, the outsider who cuts through the artificial and the crap to the truth.  He does this without pretense, without chest beating, without the self-glorification of a poser but not without fire,
        "The old man down on
        Market Street
       the one with no legs
       and a skateboard
       has more balls than the President
       this is a bitch of a poem
        not a bitching one"
        from "Poem for a Friend in Prison"

Unlike Bukowski Winans hasn't made a career out of complaining about how his life has been down and out, even when he is living (in Bukowski's case) the life of a fat cat on the money he made from his writing. Winans simply tells it like it is,
        "these old men beat their heads
        nightly against the four walls
        forced to listen to death's call
        the pain so great that
        a bottle of aspirin
        a fifth of whiskey brings
        no relief"
        from "Old Men of North Beach

Also unlike Bukowski, Winans is not afraid to write overtly political poems such as, the inflammatory "Fourth of July Poem" or the "On the Bombing of Iraq. In addition to these polemical pieces are selections from his Panama sequence; first-hand observations from his time in the service, stationed in Latin America, where he witnessed one of America's systematic imperial incursions overseas.

"Panama City could have been Any slum city in America Run by corrupt police and politicians But when you add the American troops Sent there to safeguard the people It was worse than any slum" from "Panama One"

Ultimately, what all these poems share is an abiding respect and empathy for the underdog, the put upon, the disenfranchised, those forgotten and marginalized by society. The poet who will write disdainfully of "Tough Guy Poets" writes of the establishment poets in his "Poem for Jack Micheline",
        "their faces are puffy their
        handshakes weak they hover
         in the shadows like an
        undertaker waiting to dress
         the dead beware my friends
        don't die
        they'll be sniffing
         at your grave"

The implication is; the phonies will sniff at the grave of the true poet who refused to sell his soul for a poetry credit, a wine cellar full of vintage wine, and a tenure track teaching
position; give me fortified wine and a barroom with a microphone and we'll make some poetry happen. It is no accident that Winans chose to lionize his friend Micheline as he embodied, the rebellious spirit of his time.

In recent years, Winans has been photographing his milieu, the west coast towns and bars and water-fronts where he lives. The photos are poems in black and white, small stories in themselves as the cover photo, taken by the author, shows.

And while the poet is no longer young, no longer spry or the man he once may have been, he offers and assessment of his life in the final poem of this excellent collection, an epitaph of a kind, both brutal but to the point,

        "Thirty degree nights won't kill
        you but they don't bring comfort either
         the trouble with being single the
        trouble with being seventy is knowing
        you could die alone and go
        undiscovered for weeks and nothing
        but rotting flesh to tell your story and
        a few poems to remember you by"
        from "Winter Poem"

A word on Presa S Press.  It's a relatively new press who have been publishing an excellent series of books by deserving poets and playwrights who have been paying their dues in the small press community for decades, often without the kind of recognition they deserve. In addition to Winans, this series includes, Stanley Nelson, Kirby Congdon, Glenna Luschei, Hugh Fox,  Harry Smith (with Eric Greinke) and Lyn Lifshin among others.
-Alan Catlin

 
 

Terry Reis Kennedy

 

BILLIE HOLIDAY ME AND THE BLUES

By A.D. Winans

erbacce-press, Liverpool UK 2009

36 pp., $8.00

 
It’s holy.  It’s blue as a bruise.  It’s A.D. Winans at his best, so merged with Billie—her pain, her songs, her longing for love—that we feel their Oneness.  Winans identifies with the Jazz saint’s ability to survive the worst in life, and remain committed only to her art.  These poems  are hard as nails, but paradoxically smooth as honey because they are sprung from the depths of compassion, the poet’s great love of humanity—particularly the downtrodden, the abused, and the outsider.  His is a love so large that, like his heroine, Winans never finds an equal partner  In much of his published work, for example, we discover that personal, sexual love is thwarted by fate. He loves, instead, the unknown suffering, the “huddled masses”. His idealistic longing is always disproportionate; nothing can fill the void that the Truth keeps on enlarging— people are not interested in their fellow men, not interested in seeing them as brothers and sisters, only as objects to be used, abused, and cast aside. In “Jazz Angel” one of the most evocative poems in the collection, Winans relays what he discovers walking the streets of San Francisco.  Delivering the poem like a detective’s report, the straight forwardness of the words eviscerates us:  She sits alone/  In her small hotel room/Above the 222 Club/At Ellis and Eddy Streets/8 months pregnan/Forced to give headFor soup and bread…….And after showing us the woman’s life, as if he was in her room himself, which perhaps he was, he writes: She heads for the door/Hears the night manager whisper“Whore/”
Suspended in silenceAnd grie/Floating face down/In the bowels/Of the American dream….  
To him jazzerd were what was to Willaim Blake Fallen Angels.For Winans, the Jazz Era celebrated the sensitivity of souls who had no interest in superficial values.  Billie Holiday was an alien in a world
hooked into money and fame. And Winans who always worked at jobs to support his art
never wanted to be part of any 
Gentleman's Club  In “Post Office Reflections,” he notes:

 Bone-ass tired from/Sorting thousands of letters/Fingers numb from stuffing/Them into pigeonholes/& I smelled of sweat and death/& kept drinking untilI felt good/Or ran out of money/Or both/& rode the 14 Mission BusHome/ with other peoplel ike me/
Who couldn't do a nine-to-five shift…   
Although Billie Holiday’s archangel wings got burned up in the fires of the country’s heartlessness,
its racist Klanism, its failure to perceive women as equal to men, in her performances she was able
to fly.  Winans  empathizes with her yearning for salvation through freedom.  Consequently, he has
created this tribute, not only for “The Jazz Lady” (title of a poem dedicated to her); but he sings a
sad farewell to the Blues as well.  For example, in “The Demise of Jazz in North Beach,” he writes:
No cool cats in North Beach anymore/No cool cats blowing the horn/No jazz at the old Purple Onion/No be-bop snapping fingers/No fallen angels spreading their legs/On the way home/after/A conversation with God/No black cats improvising the blues/No white dudes riding
the midnight express/
No stoned soul train musicians blowing/Mean clean notes crucified suffocating/In the smoking mirrors of the mind/Gone buried in the decadence/
Of collective madness