High-spirited and wide-ranging free verse steeped heavily in jazz beats and the Beats’ jazz.
Selby clearly grew up grooving to the poetic beats of Ferlinghetti, Corso and Ginsberg; rhythms internalized and reverberated right into the 21st century in this collection. Like his teachers, Selby finds inspiration, structure and theme in jazz, drink, women and the promise, and failure, of democracy. At their most frenetic, his narrators mimic the joyous skips and tumbles of jazz itself: “Bu- Bu - Bam! / Tink! / tink-tink! / A pillow moan / a Schoenberg tone / a split-down-the-middle / hambone.” At other times, particularly when the theme of the sad inevitability of lonely couplings arises, his narrators croon with a Hank Williams twang: “So one wine colored night / we happen to each other — / me sitting beer dazed and garrulous / on a bar stool / she sporting callisthenic garb / a new coiffure and ten extra pounds.” Ultimately, sound is what these poems are about. Though he may lapse into occasional pedantic and philosophic reveries, Selby mostly wants to bounce words together and see what tone they strike. This is the joy that encourages him to begin “Nursery Rime” with “Hey diddle diddle / diddleo / the cat strums a fiddle / pizzacatio” and to describe the moon as “a cup / filling up / She’s a bowl / receiving souls,” which is not to suggest mindless wordplay. Selby’s narrators struggle mightily to live in the moment, all the while obsessing about the inability to hold onto that moment once the next arrives. And Selby’s poetry certainly invites deeper analysis. The world evoked is a curiously gynocentric, Freudian treasure house, watched over by simultaneously sexualized and maternalized moons, crisscrossed with tunnels, breasts and wombs and populated by regressive men and a dearth of phallic objects. Any analysis, however, is likely to be met by the objections of Selby’s pastoral peasant poet protagonist, cousin Josh: “Boy, you tryin’ to make sense o’ my poems? / Don’t you know? / Or haven’t you heard? / My verse is faster than the speed of logic!”
The best of Selby’s verses sing, loud and off-key perhaps, but too soulfully not to tap your toes and snap your fingers.