Monday, June 1, 2015

Michael Lally and the "Swing Theory" of Main Street

I had lunch with poet Michael Lally the other day.  David Lehman, reviewing the book on the blog, "The Best American Poetry," says, "Michael Lally scores big with his new collection, Swing Theory, just out from Hanging Loose Press." It is a wonderful review of the book -- though touching largely on poetic form and schools of writing.  Here, I am simply arguing that Michael's poems are essential to reading main street.

The question on my mind was, "As a poet, what are your thoughts on Main Streets and symbols?" That's about as vague as a question can get. I was a little clearer in my elaboration -- at any rate, I think I was clearer -- that I have come to understand that everything about main streets is symbolic of our way of life.  "Think about the two main streets in Maplewood -- the one so 'village-y' and quaint, and the other quite different, part of Springfield Avenue and blending into Newark."

Michael smiled wryly and talked about the threat posed to the village-y main street in Maplewood by a new complex planned for the post office site and cheered on by the Springfield Avenue businesses who thought it would generate money to help them. "This has been a pleasant place for artists and writers and others to come, feel at home.  But the new complex is going to shift the place, driving those people out, except for the financiers, who'll be able to stay.  When we sit in this diner and look out we won't be able to see the blue sky because the building will be in the way."

In Swing Theory, Michael has a poem called "November Sonnet" which reads the symbolic moment as much as his story of the two main streets.  It opens with a memory of cars pulling over to the side of the Garden State Parkway, and drivers sobbing -- it turns out that this was when they learned President Kennedy had been killed.  "But it's not even a poem about Kennedy,"  Michael said.  "It's about the black guys" -- fellow enlisted men whose faces relaxed when they learned that "Lee Harvey Oswald" was white.  From the twitch of a facial muscle to the height of a building -- this ability to speak in the language of symbols is what makes Michael such an important poet for those of us wanting to create a sane America.

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