Saturday, September 20, 2014

Guest post: Old Army Jacket

John Repp is subversive, somebody who sits in the Carnegie Library wearing an "Army-surplus field jacket," and of course,  "beige-leather work gloves," as he waits for the bus. He looks a little haggard in the leather armchair. In his pocket he carries a copy of Proust. Don't speak to him is our first impulse, but you should, for he is the extraordinary poet who has written my favorite poem in Fat Jersey Blues, "Waiting for the Bus in the Reading Room of the Carnegie Library, Pittsburgh, Haggard in a Leather Chair."
     I like the long lines of this poem, as if he is used to waiting and every breath luxuriously pours out of him. Repp, a poet for the back of the bus, celebrates the smaller moments in life. Like waiting in a leather armchair. I believe he has more than one book in those army jacket pockets. His mind has grown accustomed to film classics in black and white, likeThe Maltese Falcon, and his poem of the same name allows us to breathe in the obscure but important fact that when this John Huston film premiered for Warner Brotherswas the year Bob Dylan was born.
     Yes, this is my second favorite poem of the book, and perhaps my all-time favorite film. It is the stuff dreams are made of. Repp's prize-winning book "dramatizes a world at once actual and mythic, joyful and desolate" (a line borrowed from Lynn Emanuel blurbing his poetry). My third favorite poem has to be "Having Come Late to Kenneth Koch," and he gives us that age of fifty-seven as a kind of watermark. But the poem is really about Sam Esposito, a Marine veteran, and Repp imagining a John Wayne meeting with hippies screaming about the war. I love his fat poems in Fat Jersey Blues, and John is no thin person either, who admits publicly he has come to love Koch's "goofiness/of nouns & adjectives, the jog of Technicolor abstraction."
      I don't have my old army jacket anymore, but reading these poems is like wearing one for a minute, a handful of time before entering the bitter cold. It's a book to thumb open while the bitter flakes of winter fall, and that car in the parking lot is bound not to start.
Russell Thorburn, U.P. Poet Laureate 

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