hands on the hips

Jhon Z. Baker

Publisher: Trafford Pages: 131 Price: (paperback) $10.95 ISBN: 9781426939433 Reviewed: May, 2012 Author Website: Visit »

It’s to the credit of this fine book of poems that many would fit quite nicely into The American Bible of Outlaw Poetry, that huge 1999 compendium of Beat, Renegade and generally bad-mannered writing from the likes of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan and others.

The writing is tough, laconic and streetwise, full of dark nights, hard luck and even harder living. What is most necessary to this sort of style is wit — something which is on ample display on these pages.

Baker’s titles are like fishhooks loaded with bait you can’t resist. For example: “found written on a napkin at 10:32 pm (in my hand)’; “my body still smokes–I don’t”; “the dead do not hear the life insurance checks being written.” (Baker is not fond of capital letters.) He is often just as good in the lines that follow. He can be funny: “I / use a typewriter because / it does not correct me”. Or brutally direct: “I wonder what it is you really miss. / is it me, or the attention I gave you.” And, most important and difficult, he can stretch and twist what a sentence says into something we can’t quite explain but know is right: “we are no longer friends / because I could not ask for / strength you did not have.”

The risk with this sort of poetry is that the style will fail, leaving readers with a minor incident told in trivial words, a problem Baker does not always avoid, as when he notes that he has “made the coffee / and have now drunken / another two cups, probably will / go back to bed soon, after / another dose of drugs and a / shower.”

Overall, however, this is a strong collection that entertains while challenging our expectations of poetry and deepening our experience and appreciation of our own everyday lives. Baker is a poet to watch.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author's Current Residence
Elgin, Illinois
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