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Between Good Men & No Man at All – poetry by Pam Ward – Review

Between Good Men & No Man at All
By Pam Ward
World Stage Press

Poet Richard Modiano first brought Pam Ward to my attention by telling me she was writing the introduction to his poetic collection, The Forbidden Lunchbox. I didn’t know her work, so he read her to me over the phone. I was instantly hooked by her images, candor and the gallows humor known only to those the System does not favor.

Pam Ward poetry

Still, as an old white man and apparently retro Post-Beat poet, I would not have had the temerity to review her new work Between Good Men & No Man at All, but I was asked, so here we are.

I already knew we weren’t going to get homogenized Hamilton rap or highbrow slam’s rhyming editorial language (i.e. non-imagistic). Instead I was surprised to be reminded of stumbling into an L.A. skid row grind house for the last half of Sweet Sweetback’s Bad Ass Song. Plus, like all grind house double- and triple-bills, there are always horror films.

When the devil checked
into the Primadonna
he had on a baseball cap
some Nike shorts
a nasty ass t-shirt with
both nipples pierced
which he showed
to the whole hotel crew.
Checked in under the name Strohmeyer
and strolled straight to the arcade.
Had a poker face
a handful of nickels
and a filthy mind.
Eyed the black girl
playing alone
like last night’s meat.

–from Jeremy Strohmeyer

Ishmael Reed would have certainly been more pleased if Pam Ward had been chosen to read by Jill Biden for the President’s Inauguration – as certain as it would never have been allowed. Why? Because Pam Ward is dangerous, volatile, sexual and not about making the Ruling Class feel benevolent for allowing her the “honor.”

Still I was surprised to hear more Langston Hughes than the Last Poets, It is the lyricism right before rap, like Grandmaster Flash (“sometimes I wonder how I keep from going under – uh huh uh huh huh”). Because Ward is definitely of a working class L.A., I also heard Charles Bukowski (if definitely filtered through Eileen Myles and Michele Tea). William Carlos Williams was friends with Ernest Hemingway and thus filtered through to Buk, but Williams’ objectivist “no ideas but in things” (Allen Ginsberg’s “snapshot poetics”) undoubtedly takes a more direct route into Ward’s work. Even when fringing on rap with street talk, one can’t help but hear Williams’ “atta boy” in her lines.

the sign shrieks
casting away
Cape Fears or
Boogie Nights.
It sees…Charlie Sheen
Spike Lee doing
the right thing.
“Hollywood like you should!”
Kool & the Gang sings.
A burglar alarm.
A high-pitched whistle.
the kind only heard by dogs.
Calling all bitches
and broke down punks
and even drama queens
like me
wearing my sunglasses like a smirk
eating Doritos Nacho Cheese
where an empty gas tank
is the only comedy I know.

–from The Hollywood Sign

Besides this direct presentation, there is the distinctly female voice of a Furiosa road warrior whose seen and been through domestic violence, single motherhood struggling to make ends meet and centuries of woman slave hangover.

Gimme a black eye
a boot kick
a side of smacked face
a chocolate shake that
can dislocate spine.
Come on, Miles!
Slap me silly.
Knock me into next week.
Drown me in the sea of
your Bitches Brew again
till my skin’s Kinda Blue
and my elbow hangs funny
and does a dry bump & grind in my sling.
Come on, Miles!
Kick the living daylights outta me!
Wipe the smile off my face.
Wipe the floor up with me.
Make me see stars.
Make me hear Lady Day scream.
Make Coltrane blare from the grave.
Maybe I’ll get lucky
and meet my maker this time.
Before your trumpet turns weapon.

–from What Miles Thought He Heard Cicely Say

A photographer friend I used to work with, Patricia Winston, had many stories of a hood zone that she told me, quite frankly, I could never enter. Ward isn’t taking us to crack houses or pimp streets but those barbecues where I really wanted to just sit and listen. Now’s your chance, too.

–Reviewed by Marc Olmsted

Poetry Reviews

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