BOOK REVIEWS

‘Clubland’ vividly recalls small-time rock ’n’ roll scene

Posted April 10, 2011, at 9:44 p.m.
Clubland
Clubland
Medvedb's Journal
Medvedb's Journal
And She a Shade
And She a Shade

CLUBLAND: POEMS by Dave Morrison; Fighting Cock Press/Lulu Press, 2011; 54 pages, trade paperback, $14.95.

Anyone who brushed up against the small-time rock and roll scenes of the 1970s and ’80s (and, for all I know, the ’90s and ’00s) stands a chance of seeing him or herself vividly depicted somewhere in this little book. These 40 or so verse-cast vignettes, reflections and stories by Dave Morrison of Camden vividly evoke the atmospheres and characters of the rock clubs. Morrison is an expert, having played guitar in the bars of northern New England so thoroughly that he and I wondered in recent correspondence whether our bands had not played the same bill one night in Portland around 1981.

Well, it’s hard to remember, but “Clubland” brings back all the highs and lows. The best poem in the book might be “Come On,” an example of the sweet exuberance of the best moments of the rock and roll life: “She pierced his ear in the ladies room / a pin sterilized with Tanqueray,” while the band plays “crash and boom,” and then “she smiled and grabbed him by his wrist / ‘come on’ she said, ‘I love this song!’” On the low end, a guitar player, fading because “the sameness had anaesthetised the dream / til he forgot what he was pushing for,” stands by waiting for the bartender to close: “you can’t enjoy the highs without the lows.”

This book is strong evidence that poetry is more than just arrangements of words on a page. Despite some deviating meters, a few refrains that probably work better sung than written and some discordant enjambments, these open-form verses overflow with clear, strongly felt insight. Recommended reading for old-time denizens of Clubland. This book and others by Dave Morrison are available through Amazon or www.dave—morrison.com.

Morrison will be reading his poems at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 14, at Rockland Public Library and at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, at Bangor Public Library.

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MEDVEDB’S JOURNAL by Kendall Merriam; Blackberry Books, Nobleboro, Maine, 2011; 90 pages, trade paperback, $10.

Medvedb (Russian for “bear”) appears in this small volume to be an alter ego of the author, who tells the story of Medvedb’s politics, sexual preoccupations, love of literature and general cranky, bearlike waywardness across about the last four or five decades. It is a sometimes exasperated, persistently tongue-in-cheek, always ironic narrative, to use the word loosely, of thoughts on political and social aggravations from Nixon to L.L. Bean, on encounters with locals, liquors, lovers, restaurants, psychotropic drug therapy, publishers (the “Big Time Publisher … said: ‘You have talent, Medvedb, but your mind is so warped you’ll never be a big seller’”), and just about everything else that chafes and enlivens the everyday of someone who habitually thinks, speculates and possibly writes beyond his or her surface-area routines.

That is to say, this writing is about as vagrant — with emphasis on the connotation “wandering” — as it gets in print. Those who might share the mental and emotional wanderlust are welcome along, which is the apparent purpose of the book: “Whenever Medvedb identifies someone as a bear, that person is to be seriously considered a fellow-agent, a clan-sibling, and a co-communalist.” If you feel ursine and experience a sort of distracted, alienated, bumpy relationship with the rest of the world in coastal or inner Maine, this little book could be a source of commiseration. Something tells me there are a lot of Medvedbs out there.

Gunnar Hansen and Stephen Petroff provide some introductory and after-text guidance for reading the book. Kendall Merriam lives in Rockland, where he is the local poet laureate. “Medvedb’s Journal” is available by writing to Blackberry Books, 617 East Neck Road, Nobleboro 04555 or chimfarm@gwi.net.

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AND SHE A SHADE by H.R. Coursen; iUniverse Inc., Bloomington, Ind., 2010; 398 pages, trade paperback, $22.95.

H.R. Coursen of Brunswick has turned out dozens of books over the length and breadth of a productive career as a writer and as a teacher of Shakespeare, and his latest offering, among 30-odd book-length works of fiction, is this collection of five short novels. Like some of his novels, they’re stories of postmodern international intrigue, with Homeland Security police, would-be assassins, military men with consciences and political chicanery in which a latent neofascism, sometimes paramilitary in expression, persistently threatens.

Coursen’s best prose often emerges when he’s building fictional scenes from his own experience as an Air Force fighter pilot. The narrator at the opening of “Full Circle” has received a dismaying phone call out of the blue, triggering a vivid memory of the past: “I stood in the kitchen … for long, gray minutes. Traffic pattern. Yes, I had reverted to that metaphor. You are downwind. The aircraft in front of you turns from base to final. That first ice-laced bottle of San Marcos or Kirin already invades the anticipation evolving from the desiccation created by the O2 that has flowed into the nose, mouth, and sinuses from the mask. The mask is now slimy with moisture and it smells like bad breath. The need to stand and stretch cries out from the bones and sinews that have been strapped into this killing machine for these long hours. And then the runway opens up, long and lovely, like a spreading of legs, as you ease back and hold the aircraft off until it ceases to fly. … ‘On glide path. On center line.’”

Readers who enjoyed others of Coursen’s novels, such as “The Werewolves” and “The Wilderness,” will find similar themes and characters in “And She a Shade.” H.R. Coursen has written much accomplished poetry, collected in “Recall,” as well as literary criticism and writing about writing. “And She a Shade” is available in paperback and as an e-book at http://www.iuniverse.com/ and at amazon.com.

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