Grateful for Candice Louisa Daquin’s advance review of my new book of poetry, Moonglow on Mercy Street (due out soon from CSF Publishing).
Moonglow on Mercy Street by John Biscello
When you read a lot of poetry for a living, after a while it’s hard for poetry to move you because your standards invariably raise and you demand something nuanced and rhythmical that isn’t the ordinary dish of the day. At times it can be hard to review poetry books for this reason. They can be ‘good’, but they don’t wow. Unfortunately, in our world, wow is the only way we become somewhat immortal in the literary world.
Therefore, it was a relief and a secret joy to read Moonglow on Mercy Street by John Biscello and find hidden among the pages, some real beauties.
Of late, many poetry books I’ve read, tend to have some type of collectivizing, harmonizing theme. I wouldn’t say this is abundantly clear or necessary with Moonglow on Mercy Street. Why do we need a theme or a collectivizing concept? Can’t we just enjoy a really good book of poetry? I vote yes.
When poetry really strikes me, it does so almost anonymously. You don’t know the location, the author, the voice, the era, but you feel the atmosphere, and it is that lyrical world you inhabit so intensely that resonates with you. Much like a song, why do you pick one over another and begin to incessantly hum it? Because it has that hook – that hook that keeps you mulling it over in your psyche.
The other important element to any good collection of poetry, is quite simply, to be a powerful wordsmith, someone who can harness words rather than simply move them around a page. Too often you read poetry that seems forced, mechanical, formulaic, or devoid of meaning. Sound, music, song, isn’t sufficient, it’s not enough to wear a pretty dress as a poem, you need to make sense, have gravity boots and know how to wield your light saber.
In that, a poem is an individual entity, in its own right it must speak of what it is, stand alone, defend itself, stand up to scrutiny. That’s not easy to accomplish in a world where people are gasping to tear you to pieces. In essence, this is survival of the fittest, and by fit, I mean, endowed with the right properties to stand the test of time and critic.
You should be able to pluck a poem out of your pocket in a 100 years’ time and read it and feel the same burning sensation as you did 100 years previously. That’s what ensures the master’s endure, and we shouldn’t really aspire for any less with our own collections. Fortunately, John Biscello is somewhat of a Master in this regard, he knows how to create what you, as a lover of poetry, really need, to ensure you get your teeth sunk deeply into his universe. His are not flippant, vague, missives, they are well thought out, well-functioning and fed poems that possess full stomachs and deep pockets.
I myself am a fan of words, and when a poet knows wordplay and can juxtapose and weave words so effortlessly they really do feel like a primal chant in your amygdala then you know you are reading someone worth pursuing. Someone who invariably shares your love of words, for anything less and you’ll get hackneyed, trite and immature.
I appreciate the anonymity of sentiment in Biscello’s work. He talks like he is a musing voice in the forest, speaking to us as we plunge through, muttering words of incantation, emotion, longing, living, with the gravitas of a well-oiled tongue. He knows language and the shifting and mixing of words so adroitly he seems to write without effort, although I am sure he puts a lot of effort into seeming effortless and that again, is a gift hard to learn as a writer.
There’s definitely an entire fantasy world within the realm of Biscello’s over-arcing imagination that causes you to pause time and again, to contemplate what he sees in his minds-eye and how smoothly he feeds this beautiful vision back to us, as if looping a long silver rope through time and landscape.
Some are fans of ‘shock art’ and want to read graphic, visceral, bound to grab headlines more contemporary styles, and that’s all very well. But there is always going to be a home for classic writing, the kind that caused you to enjoy reading poetry to begin with. Biscello’s work is that kind of work and in that, he excels time and time again, as if he doesn’t quite live in this world, but has one foot in another, where things are more vivid, more able to evoke and illustrate.
“find your ghost’s / bluest breath of want / upon a mirrored caste / of longing. “(Icy Hot).
Do not for a moment, imagine, Biscello is old-fashioned because of his multilayered ability to articulate a world beyond ours, but rather, he is a man who knows words well enough to build entire universes with them. Nor is his work defunct because it’s classical in nature, Biscello is a modern man and that shines through intermittently in his nod to our modern lives, the irony, the crush and the quiet despair.
“Sssssh! You can’t tell yourself, / but you have a crush on God. / Between classes, in the hallway, / you see her leaning obliquely against / the edge of a wall,” (Middle School).
An intelligent poet is one who seeks to unpack the depths of an emotion, or a moment and shine a different colored light into its crevices and discover what we don’t talk about in prose. That’s why poetry is considered the highest form of art, it is both a secret language, with the ability to be more potent than a confessional. But all done in the guise of art. Essentially, the intelligence lies in how the poet returns the observation.
“Paradox is the umbrella blown inside out in stormy weather, / as we keep walking, still covered, / yet determined to return the umbrella to its original form.” (Paradox).
Many modern poets are not aware of who came before them. I argue this is essential just as you must know how to paint realistically to master the abstract. It is down to choice. You choose where you go after you know. But if you do not know, you are limited. Biscello, with his love of other authors, ancient and contemporary, personifies the modern poet with that breadth of knowing, and that knowing lends his writing wings.
“Remember that nouns, verbs and adjectives / are made-up things. Crows, on the other hand, / are real to life, and winged.” (Thirteen Ways of Visioning a Crow).
There were a couple of poems that didn’t personally appeal but overall I found I read through this book voraciously and with a smile on my face, at the humble smarts of this poet and his unending ability to appeal deeply to our inner world and make it flourish all the more.
“I know they kill / poets in these parts / because the dismembered / remains of Allen Ginsberg / the man that Norman Mailer / once called the bravest four eyed kike / in the whole land / yes that man / scattered all over / screaming psych wards / and fallacious newsprint / meant to stir the cauldron / of bloody bathwater. “(American Poem).
If you read old-modern, contemporary-modern and classical poetry, you’ll love the nuanced update Biscello lends those worlds in homage. If you are unfamiliar with that history, then I suspect you’ll be going out to buy Anais Nin et al soon after reading Moonglow on Mercy Street. What greater compliment to the world of poetry, than to reinvigorate our enthusiasm for those who came before, to bring back to life, their gritty brilliance through your own? Biscello is one of a kind and yet, superlatively familiar to anyone who knows what good poetry really is.
–Reviewed by Candice Louisa Daquin, author of five books of poetry, including her most recent, Pinch the Lock, and Senior Editor at Indie Blu(e) Publishing.