Winter 2005-6

REVIEW - By Laurel Blossom

RENDERED POETRY: On Taxidancing: Poems, by Paul Pines

The question is: how to pull together a unified point of view concerning the latest book of poetry by Paul Pines - a volume that consists of two sections of distinctly different tone and focus- and, at the same time, to pay due attention to the relationship between individual fragments and the whole?

Perhaps the answer is in a short passage by the author in his poem "The Whirlwind: After Sonny Rollins." In the poem, Pines defines the verb “to render,//that is, to interpret/and tear apart//simultaneously.”

It is this oppositional strategy, as applied by the author, that binds two disparate sections of Taxidancing: Poems - Paul Pines’s sixth book of poetry.

In “After Hours,” the first section of "Taxidancing: Poems the author reflects on the “taxidancing” period of his life when he lived on the Lower East Side of New York City, supporting himself as a taxi driver, bar keeper, and jazz club owner (and about which he has written a well-received novel, The Tin Angel).

The poems in this section have a visually jumpy appearance on the page, their rhythms are hopped up, and the vignettes they describe are full of the names of poets, jazzmen, acquaintances, neighborhood joints and local color. They succeed in evoking the New York scene of the 1970s without sentimentality, but with a familiarity that embraces the reader.

“Adios Pablo,” for instance, begins: “Once he told me//I’m trying to enter/my 44th year/with a little dignity//tipping his Stetson/with his thumb/and sat//(you know/the way he used/to…)” Pines tells his stories a la Frank O’Hara, straight and spare. His attitude is amused and amusing, detached and, at the same time, tender with human compassion.

By contrast, the second section of Taxidancing, called "Bits And Pieces," seems at first discontinuous with the first. “Bits and Pieces” delves into fragments of religious, artistic, and political philosophy, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Native American, animistic, and particularly Buddhist, where Pines seems most comfortably to find a home.

His spiritual exploration leads him to the eventual conclusion that everything includes everything else, any one passion or desire opens into all aliveness (“every passion/leads us/from a known thing/back/into a deep/unknown”), and all fragments imply a whole, “(even in the uncertainty/that moves us forward/into uncertainty).”

The collage artwork of his second-time collaborator Wayne Atherton (a visual artist and senior editor of The Café Review) reflect the complex unity of the book. Wayne Atherton’s collages for Taxidancing complement the poems in a contrapuntal rhythm; one of them is even called “Juxtaposition.”

The charming cover collage of yellow cabs, Pines’s expired taxi driver’s license (stepped on by a man’s foot), black and white background photos of a period car and what looks like a New York streetscape is the only one that directly refers to the poet or the overt subjects of the poems.

Otherwise the collages are more or less wry psychological commentaries, enjoying common elements like black and white images, film strips, bands of plastic mesh, hands, figures, masks, bits of fabric and shards of landscape that seem to become increasingly disturbing as the book progresses.

The first collage, an amusing image of the Mona Lisa, follows the poem “After Hours,” which begins “I love/to be dissolute with you”. The final image, called “Baggage,” includes a packaged condom being sealed by a hand, a drug foil, a child with a fractured mask sitting on the lap of a grieving mother, and another woman’s face obscured by a cutout of male arms holding up a piece of satin in front of her face. It follows a poem called “Anima,” in which “no boundary exists/between mind and space,” and is followed in turn by “Hoops,” a poem about Black Elk’s vision of a “center/where time and eternity/meet/and overflow”.

So it seems that while Atherton’s collages grow more disruptive, Pines’s poems seem to move in the opposite direction, towards resolution and serenity. Pines writes, “[I] thought it was the details/I wanted to preserve/mistook events/in themselves/as precious//when it was really/what escaped/me/as I went.” (“Kicking Up Dust”).

Recapturing the lost may once have seemed his primary artistic mission -- perhaps still the mission of the first half of Taxidancing -- but Pines’s ideas seem to change as the book proceeds. Sorrow “is also/the source of desire,” he says in the poem “Homenaje al Neruda”. In accepting this reality, Pines absorbs his, and humanity’s, unspecified losses and grows into something greater. He grows “tired of myself in time” (“Pin-headed Angel Dance”) and moves towards eternity, from the madness of existential struggle to the “darkness of a dream” in which “each of us [is] a center.”

The last poem, “Way of the Warrior,” sums up nicely the arc of Pines’s spiritual taxi ride. It reads in its entirety:

I planted my madness
in the world

watched it grow
and fade

like a wildflower
on a hillside

Taxidancing: Poems was produced in cooperation with Tamafyhr Mountain Poetry,, 2005.

Laurel Blossom has published four books of poetry, the most recent of which is Wednesday: New and Selected Poems. She is co-editor of Heliotrope: a journal of poetry.



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