April 30, 2010

Review by Eric HoffmanLast Call at the Tin Palace by Paul Pines

LAST CALL AT THE TIN PALACE
by Paul Pines

Marsh Hawk Press
P.O. Box 206
East Rockaway, NY 11518
ISBN 978-0978555573
90 pp., $15.00, 2009
http://www.marshhawkpress.org/

In 1970, Brooklyn native, ex-merchant seaman and Vietnam War veteran Paul Pines opened a small jazz club called the Tin Palace in Manhattan in 1970. The bar soon became a popular watering hole for artists, writers and musicians, a popularity that continued for the remainder of the decade. Kurt Vonnegut and Martin Scorsese drank there, and many notable jazz performers from the period graced its stage.

The poems in Last Call at the Tin Palace, Pines’ seventh collection of poems, evince an improvisational spirit similar to the jazz performers and artists who frequented the Tin Palace (Charles Mingus and Larry Rivers among them). The collection’s title poem is the central poem and in its opening lines Pines provides his reader with an inspirationally defiant declaration: “Granada falling / at my feet / a Mayan princeling / in the service of his conquerors / or the buried time / between time / before I was young / when I saw / my life to come / what it held in store / and decided I would live.”

Pines’ poems accrue details slowly, at times almost imperceptibly. Yet this casual accumulation of dazzling edges most often combines into radiant diamonds of image, music and tone: “My Egyptian sister, / / as the sun rises on azaleas / I pray the seas part for you gently / / before they close again / in that swift abolishing wave” (“Egyptian Sister”); “the earth / as a floating / eyeball / / a quicksilver tear / in its atmospheric gaze” (“Implicate Order”). “Madman Cocaine,” Pines intones in the poem “Meditation,” “stitch up my mind / with the tears / in things that never speak / / make my heart / a place / where all my friends / with swollen feet are dancing / without shoes / / Tathagata / / when I find my grief / let it burn like fire / inside crystal / / when I find my tongue/ let it swim like a fish / through downy hairs at the nape of her neck.” (Tathāgata is the name Buddha used when referring to himself.)

Among the “ghosts” to whom Paul Pines dedicates this collection is poet Paul Blackburn and it is Blackburn’s voice Pines often echoes. The echo is made explicit in “Blackburn”: “I hear / your voice again,” Pines writes, “as light / trapped in ale / at the lips of old men.” “Phone Call to Rutherford,” a poem Blackburn wrote to a poet he admired, William Carlos Williams, was also concerned with an older poet’s voice and in Pine’s poetry we hear a welcome continuation of this ongoing poetic conversation. In fact, Pines’ poetry, like Blackburn’s, might be accused of being too conversational in tone, yet one shouldn’t mistake conversation for conversational.

Like Blackburn, Pines’ poems are so perfectly calibrated that at times they seem almost artless:

ART OF MEMORY
— for Hilton Ruiz

Driving from the airport
to New Orleans

on a May evening
the silence that comes

after so many notes
light suspended

in the southern sky
like fire in a river

mind reflecting on
itself the unheard

music of dusk melting
into jungle from which

a single chord is struck
somewhere

a freighter slips
coastwise

from the delta
into the Gulf

Paul Pines’ poetry is as bracingly honest as it is musically charged, leaving the reader with difficult yet sonorous truths. Pines’ poems are witness to those radiantly small and occasionally bruising moments that make up the sometimes sweet, sometimes terrible resonance of our lives. Like Blackburn’s phone call to Williams, they make a recording in our heart.

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Eric Hoffman’s essays, poetry and reviews have appeared in numerous places: The Argotist Online, Cultural Society, Isis, Jacket, Rain Taxi (forthcoming), Talisman (forthcoming). Last year he edited a George Oppen special feature for Big Bridge and his most recent collection of poems, Life At Braintree, was published by Dos Madres Press.