I was intrigued when I received a copy of this poetry chapbook for review. It isn’t the typical poetry book. The author, “Laughing” Larry Berger, “wrote” or improvised these poems onstage as part of an audience participation free verse sets at coffee houses in Los Angeles in 1996.
It isn’t easy to write poetry, much less improvise it in front of an audience, which is why I was delighted to discover Berger’s wit, imagination, and flair for language.
The verses, some as short as a few lines and some long enough for two pages, explore various subjects and themes, from fun and light to serious and transcendent.
A good example of the author’s lighter poems is “Bubble Gum.” It catches a moment, a single snapshot of pure joy:
Soft and warm between my teeth,
an old lover returns
sweet and tangy inside my mouth.
Over and over she dances,
building evermore desire.
Slowly she turns up the heat,
stoking the fires
her passions no longer confinable
releasing the rapture of the moment!
She slides along my tongue
A recurring theme in this work is the idea that modern men are trapped, caged, slaves and prisoners of their own cars and apartments. The following stanza is from “Leprosy”:
Rotting corpses walking down the street
are they really so different from you and me?
They get up, go to work, come home,
all in steel and concrete coffins.
In other poems, such as “Four Thousand Years Ago (The Crack Baby’s Prayer),” the author takes a philosophical look at life, presenting the reader with a grim picture of society, injustice, and the violence inflicted by humans throughout history. Berger uses the symbolic metaphor of rivers red with blood — this metaphor, by the way, is also recurrent in some of his other poems. Some of my favorite poems in this book are the ones where Berger captures one single moment of happiness in a world where disaster looms in every corner. For example, in “Green Tea Ice Cream,” which is about the prediction that the world will end in 2012, Berger ends the verse with:
I’ve got my green tea ice cream
There are a several memorable lines in this collection. This from “Ten Foot Pole.”
or out of work, downing
As that statue out in the harbor
Spreads her legs to the world.
The following, my favorite, is from “Stop Laughing!”
To stop laughing
is to resign ourselves to
coffins of skin!
I’m not sure if Berger meant to leave his best poem for last, but “Cold KFC in N.Y.C.” was definitely the best for me. The poem, which reads like a story, is about a man who has just been mugged in Grand Central:
an hour ago
I was kissing concrete
back at Grand Central
with the barrel of a
.357 shoved into the back
Of my skull.
The man, who has just missed death, goes back to his crummy, cold flat and collapses from terror and exhaustion. Later he wakes up hungry and the only thing left in his fridge is some cold KFC leftovers. Berger ends the poem — and the book — with:
I’ve got to tell you!
ROAD KILL NEVER TASTED SO GOOD!
Instant Poetry (Just Add Words!) is a collection of forty-eight poems. I was surprised at the author’s creativity, good humor, and, at times, depth about the human condition. Some of these poems were performed on stage along the West Coast and New York and were created in interactive poetry readings. It is a unique and ingenious concept. I don’t read poetry often, but I found Instant Poetry engaging and interesting. If you enjoy poetry and would like to try something different, I recommend you grab a copy of this book.