California becomes the fertile soil that nourishes this free verse.
There’s something about the Golden State that makes the stanzas flow, and a bevy of poets—natives and transplants alike—has left its mark on California. From Lawrence Ferlinghetti in the north to Robinson Jeffers in the central valley to Charles Bukowski in the City of Angels, California has a poetic heritage that makes other states drool. In five previous volumes, Richardson (The Book of Good Dreams, 2014, etc.) has been vying to add to that legacy, and he continues his efforts in this collection. Like Bob Dylan, Richardson was born in Duluth, Minnesota, but he grew up in Camarillo, California, and now lives in LA, and his writing is undeniably colored by the influence of his adopted home state. “Haight-Ashbury” is named after the famous (and now famously gentrifying) San Francisco neighborhood where the Summer of Love was born five decades ago: “A house for sale on Central Avenue, / cold as a clawfoot bathtub, complete with / hovering flies and a portrait of a chimpanzee / drawn in crayon by a sixty-year-old.” Here, Richardson captures the Haight not as it was—an idealistic hippie haven—but as it is now, a “menacing…tweaker,” “his head swinging with the weight of a wrecking ball.” The “house for sale” and the “wrecking ball” are potent images for evoking a neighborhood dramatically in flux. Elsewhere, he leaves the city for the mountains: “I’d like to be in Bishop, California / In the eastern Sierra Nevada / In the aisles of a hardware store / In the season of blue jeans and flannel / Buying tools for home improvement.” The careful repetition of the prepositional phrase “in the” is unostentatious but effective—which is also an apt description of Richardson’s style more broadly considered. A half-dozen books into a literary career, the author doesn’t have to prove that he’s a serious poet. Rather, he is polishing his voice to a smooth, rich luster perfectly suited for reflecting a Pacific sunset.
Fine, mature verse from an accomplished West Coast poet.