A few posts back, I posted my friend Brett’s poem, “Spooky”. It’s a sort of retelling of a night we hung out while we were getting to know one another. I think it was summer, which might explain some of my antics. The heat does strange things to me. Anyway, when he very respectfully passed it by me before publishing it, I blushed, a little, but the character was too much fun to take offense. I was a little flattered at the attention and I enjoyed the description; he made me sound much more interesting than I probably am. He once told me that he likes to read it at parties because it makes people think we were involved. I’m not sure I’m wild about the implication, but that said, it’s an otherwise fair and articulate account, I should be more ashamed of my bad behavior (thrill seeking, even?), but I am pleased he got some material out of it. The people at Publishers Weekly seemed to enjoy the piece. : )
Black Sabbatical Brett Eugene Ralph. Sarabande, $14.95 (72p)
Southern gothic meets alt-country twang, and rural hardship meets terse postpunk sophistication in this lively debut. Ralph’s troubled characters and dissonant outbursts evoke a self-destructive youth: “It’s like somebody choking on a car horn,” one poem ends, “or something metal being born.” Ralph’s rough free verse—what he calls “Impossible Blues”—recalls the deep Ozark surrealism of Frank Stanford and the early poems of Denis Johnson, though neither precursor takes on quite the same blend of upper South present and past—the bedroom of a punk rock girl called Spooky, “a riot / of tattered magazines and rusted drums,” but also the coal beds and torn up slopes where “Egypt Mines had an operation / once.” Ralph, who still lives and teaches in Kentucky, plays in alt-country bands now and grew up in Louisville’s influential 1980s alternative rock scene, known for such acts as Squirrel Bait, Slint and Rodan: alert readers might compare their sounds to his poems. Less evident in tone and manner—though quoted in epigraphs and cited by name—is Ralph’s declared commitment to Buddhism. Detractors may ask if Ralph paints with too broad a brush, if his lines seem too clear or too raw; defenders will say, rightly, that they depict something real.
They like it! They like it! Way to go Brett.
I wouldn’t classify myself as punk-rock, though.