December 15, 2008

Review by David Partch

FRENCH KISS DESTINY, THE DVD
by Marvin R. Hiemstra

Zippy Digital
166 Bonview Street
San Francisco, California – 94110
ISBN 10: 9780979572012
$14.95
Orders: drollmarv @ aol.com

French Kiss Destiny, the DVD sets several new standards for poetry in our times. By choosing the DVD format, Marvin R. Hiemstra demonstrates the power of performing, as opposed to publishing or merely reciting, one’s poetry. He underlines the significance of this with his own comment that “the Victorians so relentlessly glued poetry to the printed page and sat on it.” With humor, class and insight, he pulls poetry back out from underneath those behinds and successfully demonstrates the advantages of this new media. And fortunately, he has the good taste to not overwork the format with the extraneous clutter and distraction of contemporary video editing and its hideous fragmentation. Just simple scenes with graceful dramatic embellishment.

With facial gestures that would easily have put him in Hollywood on the set of a sitcom, Hiemstra could also have rivaled Jim Carrey in film. Yet either of those fates would have been a waste of his true talents. Although he is known as a dedicated humorist committed to undermining the specter of apocalypse with a broad smile and loving wit, the reader should beware: This poet can be deadly serious. At the end of “Hot Bear Claws Just Out of the Oven,” he deadpans: “Don’t Forget. Time bear knows how to play dead.” But if anyone is capable of showing “the importance of affection in this totally terrifying 21st century” without trivializing everything, Hiemstra not only hits the mark, but somehow makes you feel warm and fuzzy about it in the process.

Hiemstra also sets a standard with the introductions he gives to his poems, which are often every bit as poetic as the “poems” themselves (i.e., that segment you would normally be limited to on the written page). He weaves in the theme of Destiny in the introduction to “How to Handle a Banana in Belgium or They Do It Different Ways in Different Places” by reminding us “destiny has a sense of humor.” And before reading “The Catalpo Blossom Stacked on a Tiny Denim Jacket,” he informs us “No-one is kinder than destiny. She scheduled me to be part of this moment.” The introduction to “Safe in Your Own Bed?” discloses that “destiny showers us with relationships.” These comments tie in well with the poem “Begin Each Day with a Quick Review of Your Destiny,” in which the poet quips that most people are “wasting an entire lifetime fulfilling a destiny other than his or her own” and indeed “with so little style” that it is “tough on the neighbors.”

The Destiny theme has its complement in its twin sister, Coincidence. In “Coincidence Kicks In,” the poet informs us “coincidence nails it every time,” “coincidence never lets you down” and “coincidence is always on time.” This all leads him to conclude, “I love you, coincidence, please stick around.” If you’re like me, you probably don’t think that destiny, coincidence, time and death normally are themes well suited to humor. Hiemstra, the magician, pulls it out of the hat, however, with his broad grin and Olympic-level poetic gymnastics.

Ever the poetry instructor, Hiemstra gives us mere mortal poets plenty of advice. In “A Poem or a Wall,” he tells us, “Words in a good poem should be as snug and tight as bricks in a good wall.” In “Push It All the Way,” he laments that many poets “stop half-way on a poem,” following with his witty, but biting, metaphorical didactics: “Are you the one who just excused yourself with a limp villanelle?” “Have you been guilty of sprung rhythm interruptus?” In “Flies in ¾ Time,” he shows us his own fly fisherperson’s vest – essential garb for all poets! – and reminds us to be sure to “check vest pockets every day.” You might find just the phrase you’re looking for! In “A Poet’s Handy List,” he lets us in on many of the secret ways he has learned to write poetry like a “sonnet slam on the patio with May West” and “a quick game of Chinese checkers with Martin Buber.” Then he points to Tony Blair, who “teaches poets a lot. He can spin two hoops in different directions at once – and still mean it.” And finally, we learn that what we really need in the end is “one happy audience with warm socks.”

He tempers his instructions with dedications to “anyone who against all better judgment shares life with a poet” (in the introduction to “Southern Pockets”) and the warning that, in comparison to death and madness there is “an even more disturbing fate: turning into a poet!” (in the introduction to “A Poet’s Handy List”). He also concedes in “From a Dutch Sidewalk Cafe or a Spin Dry Spin” that “We poets can be amazingly dumb. We don’t get the facts right and we don’t turn our hearts on.” And he confesses in “My Best Audience” where he finds his: “ah! the deep blue sky” and “the deep blue sea, especially the jellyfish. They’ve read all my books. On quiet tropical nights, the jellies chant my entire opus – from the top” – proving that he can even get a giggle and a smile out of his own poetic career.

There’s a lot more in the way of standards I could mention. But I will have to leave it at mere appetizers in passing, so as to not spoil your main meal – watching the DVD yourself. I could mention Hiemstra’s dedication to and reverence for fine art, which, for example, is illustrated – as always humorously disguised – in his description in “One Hot Trio of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto,” which was “written to help God feel better about things.” There’s also his anthropological observations: “People tended to do much better before they tried to think.” (in the introduction to “Carbon Dating Can Be Pretty Sexy, But Remember: Forever Isn’t”). And he never misses a chance to fully – and I do mean fully – describe everything in ornate detail, like when he mentions his small hometown Iowa community in “That M Icon” and gives us the complete picture of “4000 low blood-pressure daily jello Dutch protestants.” Now that’s a lot of information in one clause! Whew.

I could say much more about FRENCH KISS DESTINY. But you will just have to get your own copy and find out for yourself. It’s well worth it. Try not to over-tickle your funny bones, though. Before I finish, however, there are two other things I will need to mention. First, I want to reveal my own personal favorite (though it’s really hard to choose, of course): “Middle Finger Lament.” I deliberately avoid quoting any lines of this delightful little gem as to not spoil any bit of your own enjoyment. And finally, in order to fulfill my obligation as a critical reviewer, I must mention that I was slightly frustrated by the lack of ability to quickly bounce from one poem to another on the DVD without having to “fast”-forward. The poems are divided into 3 segments (“The Garden,” “The Heart,” “The Sky”), but you cannot pick out individual poems within these rather lengthy segments. I have discovered in the meantime that I can set my own bookmarks, but that is somewhat tedious. I realize this is partially a fault of the technology and not the author. Maybe someday technology will catch up with Marvin Hiemstra, but I doubt it. He is too many light years ahead.

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David Partch is a poet (under the pseudonym of Eugene David) and author of 10 chapbooks. Information about his poetry can be found at www.theSighting.com. He is also a philosophically based social and political critic, visionary and community activist with a bias toward Permaculture. See his review of Jan’s Steckl’s first poetry book, The Underwater Hospital, at http://woman-stirred.blogspot.com/2006/05/underwater-hospital.html. He lives in Willits, California -the localization capital of the world. He can be contacted at: rsvp@theSighting.com