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Lummox Journal
Reviews Page

Being recent reviews of books, chapbooks, CDs (Spoken Word & music), and other zines/websites.

More Reviews - Books & Music

Editor's note:
We review some 150-200 books, etc per year. Here are some books we recommend.

by Kurt Eisenlohr

(Future Tense, POB 42416, Portland, OR; 240pp.; $13.95; 2000). Conventionally, this is not a novel: no rising action, no real conflict, no resolution. Nor does it have an assumption on which the fiction proceeds. Well into the book (nicely written by the way: well-edited - many acidly funny descriptive sentences), on p.203, the main character, 30 year-old Lupus Totten, spray paints the trailer he's staying in: "I shook the paint can, listened to the rattle, laughed at the sound of that little ball and went to work: EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE. Tall blood-red letters scrawled across the face of the trailer, the world, the universe."

Then why is this book worth reading? Because the hapless, ne'er-do-well Lupus Totten is SO passive, SO unmoved by his surround, SO unenlivened in his quipped "NOWHERE," that the reader's interest is directed elsewhere: to the 300 pound Donnie Lynn who displays her tattoo: "She was up against the dumpster in a police-search stance. She had her jeans down around her ankles, her big white pimpled ass in the air. "Oh, Jesus Christ!" Jack said, chocolate milk shooting out his nose." Or the reader gets to chuckle after Lupus fails to collect his daily quota of $225.00 as a canvasser for an environmental save-the-globe scam called Clean Water Action. In asking for one donation, a grandmotherly Japanese householder screams at him as though he "dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki all over again." However, her nubile grand-daughter, who'd read "all about Greenpeace and this environmental holocaust crap on the back of an R.E.M. album," donates in a dangerously alluring manner: "I walked out of there with a handful of piggybank change and a phone number that could have landed me a statutory rape charge. I fell about a hundred and some-odd dollars short of my quota that night. Down came the axe, up came the boot. A familiar ballet."

Whatever the job, Lupus will lose it. Whatever the opportunity, Lupus will muff it, whether as a "beer trotter at local sporting events" or as a third-shift janitor "on my knees before an infinity of urinals every night." Ostensibly, Lupus moves drunkenly, drugged - numbingly - around small towns surrounding Lake Michigan in order to find his way back to his one, GREAT love, Tia Correlia (who lives in Chicago). But even finally at the bus station - six hours from success - Lupus must fail, and does: "I remembered the sackful of Xanax the fruitcake from the psych hospital had given me...I dug it out, took a handful and sat there on the bench. Staring straight ahead. Waiting for the bus." Of course, zoned out, he misses that, too!

The humorous art of Kurt Eisenlohr is in using this "sad sack" character as an outlined - empty - cartoon, then getting about his real narrative business, which is to regale the reader with dozens of characters and situations met along his itinerant way. A stray dog becomes a highlight. A fellow worker who must stack cans of creamed corn to the grocery store ceiling becomes a highlight. A girl he stays with (Lupus endures celibacy for the sake of Tia Correlia, of course), "liked to walk around the apartment in her panties and bra [or no] panties and bra. I walked around with a hard-on for two seemed to put a strain on the Platonic nature of our relationship."

This surround - including several stints of Lupus living at his mother's house when he's flat broke - form the galaxy of interest in this novel; and it is they who are, in fact, a very thorough catalog of societal fad and overarching Zeitgeist...of tongue-stud, barroom brawl, plasma collection agency, etc. The anti-hero, Lupus Totten, is so empty of definition and character-trait as to not even be there, to be an absence; yet it is - cleverly - through his vacuum that the reader sees, shakes his head in disbelief - and, finally, nods in a knowing pleasure of an experienced milieu. Funny - and recommended.

Tim Scannell

Portable Planet
by Eric Paul Shaffer

(2000) $14.95
Leaping Dog Press
ISBN 1-58775-000-7

Portable Planet: Deep in New Territory

"Through that dragon-wrought knot, I will pass," asserts Eric Paul Shaffer in Portable Planet. "For a knot is yet a single stand, one line / impenetrable, impassable only to those who will not pursue a path / through every twist, coil, and turn / to where it leads." Similarly, in The Writing Life, Annie Dillard observes, "The line of words is a miner's pick, a woodcarver's gouge, a surgeon's probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow. Soon you find yourself deep in new territory."

Poetry is a tool with which the world can be contemplated. It is art, of course, but it is also a pathway leading both the poet and the reader through twists and coils and turns deep into insights neither reader nor poet could otherwise envision. In Portable Planet, poetry provides the means to explore the perplexities of human existence. This, the poet's third published volume, includes scenes from his life in America and from the eight years he spent living and traveling in Asia. The poems come in a variety of styles, but pervasive themes bind into an evocative whole the three books in Portable Planet: "Familiar, Far," "The Western Room," and "The Rush Through Blue."

Life is full of paradoxes. Indeed, in the book's title poem, "A Portable Planet," the poet declares, "the world I want is a ball, / tangled in the paradise of paradoxes / roundness generates." "Roundness," or wholeness, cannot be found in straightforward assertion. In fact, the poems in Portable Planet present surface images that are funny, ironic, beautiful, or sad--vivid pictures that engage the interest and then are tied into powerful knots of implication. In "Voice of Stone," the poet numbers stones in memory of
those who died in Okinawa during World War II and concludes that "in the sun I see today / what is eternal is gone." Even in the very moments we face evidence of our own eventual mortality, we gain anew the opportunity to create a life worth living.

Yet sometimes the dread and fear of all that is unknowable overwhelms us. In "Rage Against The Dying," for example, the poet's father sees life as a battle and shakes "a fist of rage reasonlessly / in the face of those close enough / to curse, to kick, or to kiss." Crouched on his "crooked crag" tallying "tiny slights" and blind to the needs of those who might have loved him, the father portrays an existence antithetical to the purposes of Portable Planet. That is, the poem provides dramatic contrast to the book's overriding
themes which, on the whole, intend to both celebrate and release "That wild, glad urge / to suddenly spin in darkness," the human ability to smile at our own deepest fears. In short, Portable Planet explores our tangled reality and acknowledges that every image the universe presents indeed constitutes a "paradise of paradoxes" which compose the very fabric of our lives and, of course, the deepest substance of our poetry.
- Reviewed by Cheri Crenshaw