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Book Review: New And Selected Poems by John Yamrus

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John Yamrus’ poetry is very humorous. Not expecting that I was caught by surprise. While reading his book, New And Selected Poems published by Lummox Press, I found myself laughing out loud and laughing so loud that people nearby turned to look at me. Yamrus laughs at himself and us, the main theme being, we’re all in this together. He uses his humor as a tool to wipe away the artificial boundaries between us. He laughs if his muse is around or not around and will sit and write even if his muse is late. The trick of it is: if you want to be a writer you have to write. There’s no way around it.

the trick of it is
to be there
waiting
at the typewriter
when it happens.

and when it does,
if you
don’t write it down
and show it to someone

then
shame on you.

Yamrus’ poetry is about the little everyday things that take us through a normal day, like where the dog is sitting and what he’s thinking while taking a dump or when he’s annoyed at his hemorrhoids.

This time it’s hemorrhoids,
And they’ve been
Bleeding since Sunday

The doctor
Wants me to have
Surgery,
But I’ve been
Putting it off

Needless to say,
It’s a real
Pain in the ass.

Poetry about hemorrhoids, hmm… Reminds me of when a neighbor bought my book and later when she met me on the elevator, said, “I expected to read beautiful lines about nature and the sky and instead I read all about your personal problems.” So I guess that makes Yamrus and I poetry brethren.

How can any writer not examine himself? In my book that’s one of the prerequisites of being a writer, like it is for a therapist or social worker. If you don’t know your self how can you write about others with knowledge and insight?

Aside from Yamrus’ annoyance about people who ‘wanna be writers’ without writing, there is his accompanying frustration with people who compare him to Bukowski. In the poem, “Bukowski’s property,” Yamrus writes:

this poem
isn’t mine…
nothing
I do
or think
or write
is mine
it’s all filtered down
through you
Mr. Bukowski…

and I wish
you’d
come here
and
take it
back.

Yamrus knows he’s not Bukowski and doesn’t want to be, or try to be. He can’t help being compared because he’s taken a style and made it his own. There are more poems too that deal with this poignant issue. In the poem, “Did I ever tell you…”

about the time
Linda said i was good
but that i’d never be
Bukowski? …

She said that i was good,
but i would never be great …
because I wasn’t mad
Bukowski (she said) was mad…
and he was
great.
i wrote back
saying that she was right…
Bukowski IS mad
and Bukowski IS great,
but if one of the qualifications
for being mad
and being great
was having to put up with the likes of her,

then i’d be more than happy
to settle for what i am
and what i’m
going to be.

that was 30 years ago,
and do you know what?

i’m still not mad
and i’m still not
great…

but, every now and then,
when the moon’s just right
i’m not
half bad.

Now that’s funny and reaches out to everyone. We all want to be accepted for who we are without being judged.

In the poem, “now that Bukowski’s dead,” Yamrus takes this further to sum up the aftermath for where we’re all headed, our final destination as the universe continues through its revolutions.

now,
they’ll pick his bones
like they did
with all the others

and look for reasons
where there were
none…

and explanations
where there are
none…

where (more often
than not) there’s just
some slob
who lived his life
and wrote
and loved
and slept
and ate
and died

there’s
no mystery at all..

really…

just
ask
Bukowski.

On a recent youtube video, Yamrus reads a recent poem about a person who writes to him and asks him to write without discussing poetry or poets. In Yamrus’ poem he responds to his questioner:

i’m afraid i AM a writer,
and the only subject matter I have
is me. …

you can also
feel confident of finding poems
that talk about picking my nose,
going to the fridge for a beer
and watching my dog take a dump

Well, yes, what else does a writer have to contend with that has meaning other than our-selves, our reflections on our interactions and the stories in our heads?

Yamrus watches himself watching the world and reports his view, a view made seeable and more agreeable by the threads of humor running through. By the same token, many academics may not like Yamrus’ style poetry because his deviation from what we’ve been taught “real poetry” is and I really relate to that.

When I decided to take some non-matriculated poetry classes in the graduate department at CCNY, the professor in charge (now deceased and even then a certifiable alcoholic) never responded to my application. I was planning a sabbatical and needed to know so I left several messages. Finally after several weeks I got him on the phone.

“I have my concerns,” he said authoritatively but never clarified what they were. What he did say was that I couldn’t take classes. Usually non-matriculated students are accepted. I got the name of the Creative Writing Chairman and spoke to him. He asked me to send a folder containing fiction, poetry, academic writings, articles, literature reviews, brochures, and more. I did. The folder had about a hundred pages all together. Three more of these overnight folders were all “lost” and I hand delivered one with no response. Finally I made an entirely new application for matriculation and sent ten pages of a story under my married name, Lambert and was accepted within a week.

Prejudice may have been at work on several levels since my last name is clearly Jewish and when I used an Anglo name with the same writing sample I was accepted quickly. Otherwise someone should’ve recognized the story. I got my second master’s degree there only because my options were limited in what I could pay, and CCNY is still the cheapest deal in town. I admit I left out the poetry and I also admit some people hate my poetry, and in that way my work is similar to John Yamrus’.

I guess that why Yamrus’ poem stories about what people say about his poetry really hit home after my experiences.

Yamrus also confronts his inner conflicts with humor. In “dear anita,” he writes:

The most recent poem
you sent
Is one of the best things
you’ve ever written

it’s got hear and soul,
intelligence,
warmth and wit

it’s got
everything
my poetry seems to lack

please
don’t write to me again

you’ve done it so
much better than me

I don’t need
The competition
If you write to me again
i’ll refuse to open your letter

From here on in
i’m only going to read
Writers who have been dead
40 years or more

at least with them
i’ll have a
fighting chance.

The poems may appear very simple but that’s the trick. Many may say, “Oh I can write like that,” but they don’t. Someone who is an expert at doing something always makes it look easy to do but that doesn’t mean it is easy. His early influences are Bukowski, who wrote narrative poetry also and Gerald Locklin who also used self-effacement effectively. Yamrus may have been influenced but he isn’t trying to be anyone else in his poetry. He takes risks, exposing himself and the reader and that’s what it’s all about.

New And Selected Poems is John Yamrus’ 18th book. He has now published nearly 1,100 poems in magazines around the world and selections of his poems have been translated into several languages including Spanish, Swedish, Italian, French, Japanese and most recently Romanian. Contact Yamrus c/o his publisher, Lummox Press…e-mailing them at: poetraindog@gmail.com.

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