Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Future Blues reviewed in the City Paper

Future Blues is nicely reviewed in today’s City Paper.

The link to the online version is here:

Here is the text:

Potent verse fills Michael S. Begnals fourth collection

The poet ranges from Irish-American themes and empathy for caged animals to appreciations of protopunks the Stooges

by Bill O’Driscoll

Seeking to recreate the world in words, some poets spread their text purposefully across the page, with big horizontal or vertical stretches of white space. In his fourth collection, Future Blues (Salmon Poetry), Michael S. Begnal uses this technique more often than most. But it’s a measure of Begnal’s skill that all that white space never seems an affectation. Rather, its just another way he immerses us in his potent, often challenging voice.

Begnal, 46, was formerly editor of the Galway, Ireland-based literary magazine The Burning Bush. And indeed Future Blues often explores Irish and Irish-American settings and concerns. “Waterworld” limns an Old World street scene and a millennium’s arc of history in a handful of lines (“r e i n c a r n a t i o n back on the agenda”). The stunning “Dead Rabbits” captures in a page the immigrant experience from Potato Famine to third-generation Middle American dissolution. Four other poems are even in Gaelic (and defiantly go untranslated).

“Angles” — about Western European colonists planting “trimmed bushes regimented in rows” in new-settled lands — is built on a delightful bit of Joycean wordplay (“The Angles are coming”). And with “Application for the Provision of Catholic Beverages,” Begnal, employing a barroom stoicism, offers a detailed yet concise allegory on the Church’s defunction.

But there’s lots more to Begnal. His verse can be pleasingly visceral (“the canal flows nearby/ clogged with dead leaves of limitless autumns”), or delve into personal torment, as in “Shade,” about the speaker’s relationship with a man who “sick or dying pretends health / in a black turtleneck.” Begnal includes an “Homage to Li Po,” and indeed displays a special facility for Eastern-inflected poems simply depicting a physical scene in lucid detail — or even, as in “Homage to Allen Kirkpatrick,” merely describing a series of old photos.

There’s also strong political sensibility, with evocations of imprisonment, characterizations of poets as endangered visionaries (“Manifesto”) and deep empathy with animals caged (“Thylacine”) and threatened. “[T]omorrow I will kill the poachers,” the speaker vows in “Primates.”

Other highlights include takes on pop-cultural touchstones. In “Bettie Page,” Begnal goes a bit T.S. Eliot on pinup icon Bettie Page. And a series of poems on the Stooges includes a witty appreciation of their alternate-universe third album, complete with titles like “Fresh Rag” and “Big Time Bum.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Future Blues reviewed in the Galway Advertiser

In today’s (December 6 2012) edition of the Galway Advertiser (Galway, Ireland’s free weekly paper), my friend the poet Kevin Higgins reviews Future Blues, along with our mutual Salmon Poetry press-mate Patrick Chapman’s A Promiscuity of Spines.  The review appears on page 112, and can be read here (click link then scroll down).

Below, transcribed is the part of the text which deals with Future Blues:

Children of The Burning Bush

By Kevin Higgins

Michael S Begnal lived here in Galway for several years and was editor of The Burning Bush literary magazine. Mike was keen to push the boundaries of Irish poetry and impatient with well made but dull lyric epiphanies about family, church, or the field across the road.

Mike’s view has been that too many Irish poets are nice boys and girls with excellent degrees who write acceptable little poems more designed to impress the poet’s parents than do anything else. He’s interested in the wayward strand of Irish poetry typified by the work of the late James Liddy, whose poems are perhaps the place where Allen Ginsberg meets Patrick Kavanagh at his most raucous.

If you think poetry should rhyme and be about girls with flaming red hair going to school barefoot through the fields, then Mike’s new collection Future Blues (Salmon Poetry) is definitely not for you.

In poems such as ‘Dead Rabbits’ Begnal doesn’t take the easy route of obvious autobiography, but instead disturbs the reader with images and makes us think: “mouths stained green with chlorophyll,/ the corpses lined the roadside then// the economy warped in its spasms,/ died or passed to America.”

He really gets into his stride in the longer poems, ‘Homage To Allen Kirkpatrick’ – which runs to four pages – and the Ginsberg style ‘Manifesto’: “WHEREAS/ they want to kill us—/ even now when I stand/ with my back to the window/ it’s like I might get shot/through the blinds.”

Here and there Begnal shows he shares Ginsberg’s weakness for profound sounding, abstract words, such as “transmigration” and “genealogies”. All in all, though, a strong collection. If you like Tom Waits’ stranger albums, then Future Blues may well be the poetry book for you.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Reading at Duquesne University 12/4

I am doing a reading in Pittsburgh at Duquesne University, at their Barnes & Noble café on Forbes Ave., this Tuesday, Dec. 4, 7pm, with the renowned essayist Peter Trachtenberg.  I  will have books for sale and that sort of thing. . . .

Details here and here.

The photo is the Duquesne English Departments very nice display for the event, with a Xmas theme!  See you there.