Review of Allen Meece 2015 Book of Poetry, “Drifting in Paradise”

drifting in paradise

Review of Allen Meece, Drifting in Paradise: Road Map to Reality
Essential Existential Poetry
(Key West: publ. KeyWest House, 2015)

reviewed by M. R. Willison…….

You never know what others are up to, but in the case of Allen Meece, you know it’s got to be poetry. He reads his poems at the Key West Poetry Guild, which he guided for many years, and he has published his poetry. He is also known for his turn-of-the-millennium Viet Nam War novel/memoir, The Abel Mutiny, on his (unwilling) participation in the Bay of Tonkin excuse for open U.S. war against North Viet Nam. Now we have Meece’s book of 103 poems drawn from his entire career and four very short stories (as well as a poem by Rosalind Brackenbury). Meece’s book is an eye-opener.

He introduces Drifting in Paradise: Road Map to Reality/Essential Existential Poetry with a disclaimer—“All [these] poems are creative works of fiction and bear no relation to any person, living or dead.” That said, he nevertheless writes forthrightly about all sorts of people, some recognizable, some even named, especially including himself. The book itself and some of its poems are dedicated to Rosalind Brackenbury, his poet-and-novelist wife.

A well-organized collection of poems old and new, Meece’s chapbook is a cornucopia of experience, and as its subtitle declares, a road map to reality as he sees it. Its Preface and his four clever Section and twelve Chapter titles develop emergent and connected themes, starting with “an outsider’s view of capitalism” and “Hire Education.” Here his first sectons begin his excoriating of North American materialist illusions that breed an ambitious, avaricious consumer culture, even as capitalism sends its workers into penury (“Here’s to the Rich”). In Section 2, Meece focuses on his book’s own anguished persona, a man abandoned by his wife (the story “Walker”) ending up broke in Key West (“Someone Else’s Problem”). Section 3, Adrift, has the poet’s persona living among the homeless (“Peregrine”), to whom this book is also dedicated. These poems of anguish, like a Category 5 hurricane, are clearly torn from Meece’s own experience, not mere pale recollections or descriptions.

The poet in fact cries out from his own descent into alcoholic risk-taking and irresponsibility (“Adrift”). This personal history, written from life, conveys a searing experience that is also, or even especially, for a reader who hasn’t undergone such a purgatory of the soul. Only arrest and probationary therapy (“Intervention,” short story) slowly turns him toward a far more rewarding life (as can be pursued maybe only in Key West; see “This Island Town”). Yet through all these travails Meece writes that he carried with him his writing notebook, always responding as a writer to his experience. The realization of his aspiration is confirmed and validated by this his book–Drifting in Paradise.

The poems and short stories from his time of troubles, like his more recent ones, have the direct, personal verve and enthusiasm that characterizes all Meece’s work, even the most repellent. Meece wants us to “go meet Jesus on the street,” and calls for the dismantling and replacing of America’s brutal inequality: “I am an anti-authority author,” he declares. But his revolutionary philosophy is much broader than any single religion, beyond his many allusions to Jesus and to Buddhist abnegation (“Paradise Within”), Hindu cycles and Siva (“Enter the Destroyer”), alternate universes, and the existentialism of the book’s subtitle. The book’s rich concluding sections’ poems are deeply coupled to Meece’s amazingly enduring enthusiasm for love and for life itself, especially his wanderlust (“King of the World”) and his appreciation of the maritime (as in “You Gulfstream”). He is fascinated by all that surround us, otherwise so often ignored—nature, love, life itself, with all their manifold conundrums. And especially in the fourth section, TropicStyle, but throughout the book too, he appeals to his and our own natural playfulness, our wonder and pity, and ultimately our appreciation for life fully lived (“Give Me No Tomorrows”), the search for personal and social freedom (“Bike Man of Key West”) found in shared life {“This Island Town”) and love (“Bright Silken Tents”).

Meece’s language ranges from the speech of ordinary life, like Charles Bukowski’s (“Ex-Wife Dream”) to the explicit sexuality of Charles Simic, and alternates with the highly structured rhyming and rhythm of folk song (“Give Me No Tomorrows”) and effective use of rhyme (“Sailboat aground on Spanish Banks”), with its forced word order to get the effect he wants. His quick perceptions may verge on brief tanka or even haiku. His extremely short stanzas can actually be pithy aphorisms. Throwing in some German, French, and Spanish, he also brings his own signature words—“peeped,” “squidgy squodgy,” the ”dummies” and the “puffy,” his ingenious “rainveil” and “touchingness,” and rare words like “annelidian” and “nictitating.” He refers to the Viet Nam War and the French Revolution, and to the anguish of the North American Indian, to Princess Leah, and Bogie, and “Starry, Starry Night.”

Although Meece quotes Robert Frost and much from the Bible, his refers explicitly to W.H. Auden and Hemingway (“Hem”), whose manly exterior also enclosed a sufferer. But he also has links more broadly to much of contemporary realist poetry (including a great parallel to Elizabeth Bishop’s playful “A Letter to Miss Moore”–to get Marianne Moore to come to visit Manhattan–in his own “The Pause of Key West,” in which he demands his love hurry home). But it is especially with the all-in-fun sadness of the Beats (“Phone Play”) and the raw politics of Amiri Baraka (“Freeness”) that he brings his poetry home to us. Like the rappers, his uneven meters are best heard out loud, as attested by Meece’s excellent readings at the Key West Poetry Guild and especially this past January at Blue Heaven’s book publishing reception.

Drifting in Paradise, a highly evocative and stimulating work, includes 103 poems and 16 pages of stories available on Kindle by Googling Amazon and typing “Allen Meece.” But a handsome handbound, signed, and numbered copy is available from at the local Key West Island Bookstore at 513 Fleming Street or from Allen himself (305-292-8577; [email protected]).

Find Drifting in Paradise and more of Allen Meece’s works here.

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