- Word Search
71 Pages; Print, $20.00
With a style quite his own, Quincy Lehr employs rhyme and meter (herein decisively not “old school”) with language that holds no punches and subject matter very much in the dark heart of our social ills, both urban and suburban. His newest collection, The Dark Lord of the Tiki Bar, gives the reader a satisfyingly fresh take on that subject, both in its poetic craft and approach. His work may be best thought of as part of what Sarah Giragosian, in her essay “Divided Creatures and the Music of Form” (2014) in the online journal Unsplendid, referred to as:
…an alternative formalist tradition marked by subversion, irony, and an understanding of the social conditions immanent within textuality.
The sometimes raunchy language and expletives are only a small part of his defense of compassion and vulnerability through an approach that feels like a sarcastic drive through the unrepentant world of the awful, mitigated by the magic of wordplay and the surprise of the poet’s own self-revelation.
It is the gradual admission of vulnerability amid the cacophony of vulgarity and rant that weaves an oddly attractive thread through this, which keeps the ugly ugly, while revealing the human struggle within, a poetic voice, a lament and a hope for something better. It may be the no-holds-barred depiction of what’s wrong with our world that makes the personal revelations work. Here we have poetry that mostly skips nature and beauty, per se, to confront ugliness, war, pop culture, and hypocrisy, stuff from which one recoils, a bar scene in which nothing is right.
For me, it forms a nice counterpoint, the human vulnerability and weakness juxtaposed with the bravado and bluff of modern culture in all its bizarre renditions, which is difficult to do; hence, we also find a recurring theme of the difficulty of self-expression, of finding the right words. Perhaps the constraints of formal poetry help to that end. As Giragosian writes, formal poetry is:
…not only an arrangement of accents and syllables, but also a tension and relaxation of energy. Like pressure building in a sealed vessel, it eventually explodes, and the poem’s “creature divided” is freed.
In this case, the “creature divided” is both the human being in a struggle between ego and oppression and the poet as well. Lehr’s “Dark Lord” of the title poem is, significantly:
trappedwithin the silver Ray-Bans of a man…an alcoholic junkie with a thingfor Adolf Hitler.…His gaze is an abstraction—or a lawlike gravity or entropy behindthe silver nullity. This is the starethat napalms villages or beckons girlswith fondled dollar bills, that traps a godwithin the concave mirrors of the eyes.
It’s a picture of emptiness and how things go wrong, of oppression (“Consuela does the hula—half-burlesque, / half pastiche Hawaiian”) and people affected by war: “the hippie and the vet, the taintstain of an empire / that hasn’t washed out yet.”
In “That I May Find Grace in Thy Sight,” he begins with a blasphemous note for religiously sanctioned violence: “God loves an asshole—that was always clear,” one who, “spotting the deity, shifts to attack.”
So the poet wonders:
Why not just askand take what’s freely given, nothing more…?
Instead, we have:
an insolent demandfor blessing, landing like a punch or prayer.
This is explored further in “Blood:”
Each empire must become itself, a thing that ruptures like a half-healed wound…a loss of bloodand trust in gentler prayers.…
The poet then distances himself from the machinations of power:
There is no nation in my veins, no bloodin the pagan Christ hanging on the rood—contorted face, emaciated ribs—lean pickings in this time of want….
In “Who Killed Bambi?,” we get a taste of Lehr’s descriptive style:
Carter and Callaghan and studio setsdecked out in cheap Formica, while the streetsreeked of garbage, as the long-odd bets...