by Micah Ballard
Bootstrap Press 2009
Reviewed by Ben Mirov
“I will not rise / to receive their grievances / nor their praise…”
Publishing almost exclusively in small press chapbooks, Micah Ballard has led a career that has been an homage to an era of poetry beginning during the San Francisco Renaissance and continuing on into the 1960s and 70s when poets like Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Charles Olson and Philip Whalen were considered an older generation of masters and younger poets like Joanne Kyger, Tom Clark, Ann Waldman, Bill Berkson and Lewis Warsh (to name a few) were forming tight knit groups, and publishing communities.
Many of the small press projects Ballard is involved in still produce chaps that reference this period when publications were mostly produced in an 8 1/2′ by 11′ format on mimeograph machines or made by hand. Ballard’s new collection, Parish Krewes, is mostly a selection from a number of small press publications, printed by friends and circulated within select communities. Many of the poems are dedications and their language reflects the intimacy and idiosyncrasy of these friendships (see: “Purification,” dedicated to the poet Partrick Dunagan, and “All Saints Day,” for Ballard’s wife and fellow poet Sunnylyn Thibodeaux).
Much of Parish Krewes owes its stylistic nuances to poets of this era such as David Meltzer (one of Meltzer’s collages graces the cover), and Joann Kyger, but perhaps Ballard’s most significant predecessor is the poet John Wieners. Closely associated with SF renaissance poets like Duncan, Spicer and Robin Blazer, Wieners was widely read and known in the poetry scenes of his time. Despite being lauded by Robert Creeley and Charles Olson, Wieners remains a poet who never enjoyed the success of his peers. A large number of Weiners’s poems condense a sense of longing and loss into elegant, seemingly effortless poems. Often, his language runs into the dark, recounting moments of solitude and destitution, drug addiction, and love loss. If you are lucky to find a copy of his rare chapbook The Hotel Wentley Poems, you will find a tonality and diction much like Ballard’s work in Parish Krewes. Take for example Ballard’s poem “Queens Tunnel to Lexington”:
dreams where the real
life is lived
the inner workings of deals
Until there are none to be done.
Only the premonition
of where we’ll be when they arrive
after they’re gone.
It all returns. But is it morning
or am I still here from yesterday?
Blood rushes below. Rain
seeps through windowpanes
the bell rings. Stop. I will not rise
to receive their grievances
nor their praise, false ambitions
There is another communion to tune in with
Something more immediate than flesh.
Throughout Parish Krewes there is the strong sense that each poem is resisting “false ambitions” and “material poetry.” All of the poems in Ballard’s collection maintain their integrity by refusing to participate in “Surrendered realms / which initiate / the inner workings of deals / left undone.” It is not made explicitly clear what these realms are, except that they promise the unsatisfying “…premonition / of where we’ll be when they arrive / & what’s next / after they’re gone.” This sort of explicitly opaque language is employed throughout Parish Krewes in order to create space that is both esoteric and open. The dedications to close friends, the idiosyncratic diction, the dark, private tone of the poems all function towards this end. My favorite poems in Parish Krewes inhabit an otherworld. They incrementally build themselves into a dimension where the poem hangs in the ether like a ghost, waiting to be recognized and listened to. Even the more esoteric moments shimmer with obsidian intensity.