Author's Disclaimer: This review was prepared after I read Quincy Lehr's book in June and therefore well before I offered him the Associate Editorship of the Raintown Review, not that it is so gushing that I would think you would suspect me of nepotism either way!
Quincy Lehr's Across the Grid of Streets
Quincy Lehr’s first full-length collection, Across the Grid of Streets, is maddeningly good. It confirms that he is a gifted poet with an almost unswerving knack for meter and intricate rhyme schemes. Flashes of brilliance glint among his poems like gold dust in a California stream. However, Lehr’s most brilliant poems are still ahead of him, a fact I suspect he knows.
When Lehr permits himself to write without self-consciously observing himself in the act, he is capable of hauntingly evocative lyrics, especially surrounding urban landscapes:I stepped outside to buy some cigarettes
And stared up at the moon as lazy jets
Of clouds flowed slowly past the brownstone walls.
The traffic rumbled, and the distant calls
Of drunks made lupine by the sun’s reflection
Cut like the wind through midnight’s chill dejection
Across the street and through the subway grate.
But Lehr perhaps too often creates a first person character in his own image as the anti-hero of his poems, and if such a thing is possible he is merciless on this character to the point of profane self-indulgence:…At seventeen
My hair was black; lips twisted in a smirk.
A pissed professor’s son, a smart-assed jerk,
A bookworm almost trying to be mean.
I would hold forth on something that I’d read—
Or read about—and feeling very smart,
I’d talk some more. The crap I must have said
Would mortify me now…
It is up to the reader to decide whether his longer poems, especially “The Joke,” are an extension of this vicious self-denigration that uses the narrator’s literary elitism as another weapon in the arsenal against himself, or a more deliberate parody of the poetry of literary allusiveness in general. Regardless, they are as fascinating as a train wreck, and about as untidy, with snippets of Eliot’s "Wasteland", Yeats’ "The Second Coming" and Berryman’s "Dream Songs", plus echoes of Whitman and Larkin.
This book is entertaining as all hell, especially if you like your formal poetry liberally salted with sex, slang and four letter words. It is difficult, however, not to permit oneself a faintly condescending smile at Lehr’s depiction of this persona as an ageing sell-out with his best years behind him (Lehr is thirty-three.)As if the night
Is full of us—insomniac, astray
And muttering defiance at the day.
My main point would be: buy this book now. It’s out in a limited edition of 1000 (500 hardcovers and 500 paperback) and will be worth something in a couple of decades when Lehr has at last discovered that forty is not old, written a few more books, won some major awards and has gotten over his damn self!Across the Grid of Streets is available from Seven Towers Press.
Anna Evans’ poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Harvard Review, Atlanta Review, Rattle, and Measure. She gained her MFA from Bennington College, and is the new Editor of the Raintown Review. Her chapbooks Swimming and Selected Sonnets are available from Maverick Duck Press.
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