This Drawn & Quartered Moon
Anvil Press
ISBN: 978-1-927380-45-1

Reviewer: George Wallace

          The gifts of a vaudevillian can serve a poet well in the world of performance, but do not necessarily translate well to poetry on the page.

          Fortunately, that’s not an issue in This Drawn & Quartered Moon, a 2013 collection of works by Northern California poet klipschutz. In fact, there’s a pretty fine ride to be had in This Drawn & Quartered Moon—and it’s not fueled by vaudevillian mayhem or the biting satire of Marx Brothers shtick, but despite it.

          A close examination of the man’s work on paper reveals that, more than mere zaniness, there is frequently a beguiling complexity to his poems that lingers long after their reading.

          Reviewing a book of poems by klipschutz is a little like critiquing a force of nature: the first instinct is to step back uncritically and admire the man’s penchant for conversational wit and incisive panache. After all, that’s what his “under the radar” reputation is founded on. Add to that “above the radar” nods from the likes of Sharon Doubiago and Carl Rakosi—one of the archangels of Objectivism’s celestial climes—and there’s reason to have high expectations.

          Fortunately the strongest poems in the collection validate those expectations.

          Some of the best of these are portraiture, found in the section titled “The Girl in The Black Dress.” In poem after poem, klipschutz goes beyond the facile and humorous to offer portraits that pay deft attention to the telling detail.

          There’s “Lester Rogers,” the bearded, trout-fishing rocky mountain outlaw who’s on the lam after getting collared with a truckload of marijuana. There’s “Dysfunctional Don” (think John Belushi as Don Corleone in group therapy) for whom “cement shoes was a cry for help.” And there’s an unforgettable spearing of Courtney Love in “The Love Bus,” “hellbent to show this whole burnt-out town/ that next to her Janis was a faggot/ and a no-talent punk daddy’s girl….”

          klipschutz also scores in his “poem as literary address” mode. In the prefatory poem to William Wordsworth, for example: “Hey Bill, the clouds don’t look/ so lonely from up here!/ I’m wandering regardless,/ passport strapped to thigh”—but even more so in “Dear Ezra,”  a poem that stays with the reader as much for its gymnastic handling of point of view as for its contributing statement to what has become an essentially irreconcilable debate over the legacy of Ezra Pound.

You died. Class dismissed. All that noise.
Well the Jews they’re still with us—
one of ’ems my worst enemy:

And goyim look down their button noses
at you, with your hypersonic booms and busts
         of meaning,
oy! Your screwball scholarship du jour.
In their pacific eyes,
                                 you may
be a bit of a Jew yourself.

          Most people cling to one side or the other of a debate which goes something like this: whether or not great work by a terrible person should be seen as great. Not klipschutz. He approaches the subject with a dismissive grace, albeit dripping with irony, calling Pounds’ attraction to fascism “a schoolgirl crush on Mussolini.”

          To be honest, this is a poet with an occasional propensity for somewhat cloying puns, which are more likely to earn a groan than a delighted clap of the hands. Titles like “Prophet Loss Statement,” “The Red Wheelbarrow of Fortune,” and "Housepaint Is Thicker Than Water” do less to sell the poem than clutter the reader’s way to a satisfactory experience.

          It’s worth putting these verbal slapstick lapses aside, however, if only for the acumen and wit—and ability to find a telling detail—that reveals itself in the author’s work.

          Ever the poet of witness, klipschutz offers up a strong entry in “This Drawn & Quartered Moon,” the title poem, nicely blending the personal and the political. Conflating of his mother’s funerary ashes with “Rehnquist’s gift outright…” is a particularly poignant moment.

          Of course, the title poem also points out the danger of topicality; a poet in search of material must tread cautiously through the contemporary. For how long will readers be moved by the role of the US Supreme Court in the outcome of the 2000 election?

          Poets that rely on the temporally current, topical badinage of the day would be well advised to avoid subjects that will likely be relegated to the dustbin of yesterday’s news.

          Okay, William Carlos Williams said poetry is news that stays news. But which hot headlines du jour are actually likely to still be news a decade from now?

          There’s an art to recognizing the difference. If you get it wrong, a poem is toast.

          To his credit, klipschutz seems to recognize the difference. He gets it right often enough in this volume to satisfy. In particular, the “president” poems have excellent moments—especially when referencing Eisenhower (“He teed off/ straight & clean as sun is light”), LBJ (“We Interrupt This President”), and Gerald Ford (“Jerry// played the slow-wit to a fault”); these poems have plenty lift-off.

          “State Poem” shines too, lampooning the role of Iowa in determining the direction of presidential politics as “Hopefuls flock” there every four years.

Iowa lies halfway
Between Iowa and Iowa,
Surrounded on all sides by borders.
Main export: Iowans.

          In this poem, klipschutz deftly plays to our sense that political and economic culture may have done damage to this midwestern state, but that beneath the surface there’s something of residual grandeur to be found: a “fertile ground of heavenseed/ Pheasants, distance, snow."

          As it is in Iowa, so it is in This Drawn & Quartered Moon. There’s nuance and grandeur and human warmth to be had—but it’s often below the surface of the performance-poet punditry.

          klipschutz’s poetry shines most brightly when he displays his humanity and his observational acuity. The man has a gift for capturing and sharing precisely the right details, bringing a portrait or scene to life.

          When he does that, it’s more deeply satisfying and memorable than any three-minute pop on the open mic.

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