Sunday, November 28, 2010

Review: Douglas County Jail Blues published by Coal City Review (Oct. 2010)

Brian Daldorph, editor of this collection of poems by inmates at the Douglas County Correctional Facility (Lawrence, Ks.), presents a decade of writings from his and Michael Caron's writing class. The collection is raw and honest. The images are like bricks--indeed a strength of the group of writings is the original, confrontational descriptions. Voices of the twenty-plus writers collect in these pages and narrate a counter-reality of American failure and anguish. Mike Caron writes about the project: "Words on paper can be an effective alternative to smashing fists in concrete walls or screaming obscenities." Caron has it right--these poems are immediate and necessary. This is where poetry resides, in the incarnation/incarceration of spirit within walls of flesh.
The blues, referenced in the title, are a strict musical form, 8 bars; the prisoners use regular forms as often as free verse. The editor's touch is light, so authenticity is preserved. At the same time, this is a group of poems with evidence of thoughtful revision/reflection. Here is one that shows the kind of punch many of these word-bombs create:

Danegrus Dane: Confession of a Killer
It's like this, I tried everything
but nothin' worked, everywhere I
looked they had me surrounded
where the shadows lurk. What I don't
understand is why every time I look out
the window I'm the guy standin' there
holding that big silenced Desert Eagle
with the laser sights & teflon-rubber grip.
I'm the one comin' to get me & all I got:
the gold bars, the diamonds & all that
blood money. So much money like you've
never seen. So much more blood. I guess the
best way 2 kill a killer is 2 send another;
I guess that's why they sent me,
the most dangerus of 'em all. Good, at least
it'll be quick, at least
I don't think I'll let me suffer.

In Lawrence at the Raven Bookstore and Jayhawk Ink. To order, send $10 check or money order to Brian Daldorph, Coal City Review, English Department, University of Kansas, Lawrence KS, 66045.