At the thin end of the publishing spectrum we have the lowly chapbook, typically a few folded sheets stapled together in somebody’s basement. Chapbooks get a bad rap, but they have several points in their favor—they’re cheap, they take up little space on your shelf, and you can rest assured you’re not reading the same thing as the Oprah-watching book buyer two doors down.
I’m glad I’m not dating Texas poet Stephanie Scarborough—otherwise the title of her chapbook Your Kisses are Like Metallic Squirrel Droppings might make me nervous. It’s hard to write meter and rhyme verse these days but Scarborough, a past Whistling Shade contributor, makes it seem effortless, cracking jokes like a young Dorothy Parker. Some of her best poems are parodies, for example "The Desperate Bachelor to The First Woman He Saw", her take on Marlowe’s "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love". She also satirizes the nymph’s reply to the shepherd in "The Woman’s Reply to the Desperate Bachelor". Her answer is, in a word, NO:
No way I’ll go and wash your socks. Now I must go and change my locks. You are a creepy stalker-man Who probably drives a mini van.
For more hilarity sent $2 to Stephanie Scarborough, PO Box 715, Weatherford, TX 76086.
If you just can’t afford the two bucks, you could go the cheap date route and download Bryan Thao Worra’s free e-chapbook, Touching Detonations, from http://members.aol.com/thaoworra/poetry.htm. Based on a trip Bryan and his wife, Ka Vang, took in Southeast Asia, in 2003, the collection uses the very real threat of unexploded ordinance as a touchstone. In "Khop Jai For Nothing, Farangs", he describes a man injured by a landmine:
And he screamed The whole time as we loaded Him into the back of our rickety plane Bound for Vientiane that Lao Aviation picked up from The Russians when everyone Thought the Cold War Was going somewhere.
Thao Worra, a first generation Laotian-American, finds his own voice in this collection, darkly humorous and intelligent, scraping together cultural mythologies and dicing them up with scenes of personal experience. In his best pieces he has a unique style where East and West get thrown together like bacon and eggs.
If you’re looking for something to read on a quiet night at the bar, you could do worse than The Tequila Chronicles, by local poet and ne’er-do-well Michael Gause. In the tradition of Li Po and William Burroughs, each alcohol-inspired poem in this collection is given its own month and its own drink. For example, June’s poem, "Still", is listed as absinthe (when Whistling Shade queried Gause as to where he procured his absinthe, he hazily mentioned something about the wonders of the internet). A sampling:
Is it lunacy to court the memory of youth, the way the rest of our society does? Often I look upon these days a newborn, cast upon the rocks at the water’s edge. There I quivered in the face of stinging salt and a chill unknown in the womb.
These poems face the reader with a dilemma. If read sober, they seem rather too theatrical, promising the answers to great questions but delivering the rant of a kite-high drunk. If read properly, after a few drinks, the poems are much improved, but hard to read due to the imitation handwriting font Gause employs. Those interested in the Chronicles can belly up to Micawbers or Query booksellers with a $5 cover.
Lastly, and just in time for the Saint Paul Winter Carnival, we have Jesse Anibas’ Treasure Hunt History, published in association with the Pioneer Press. This little spiral bound reference manual contains all of the hiding places, maps and clues to past treasure hunts, and should be a great resource to current medallion-seekers. Or, you could just buy the book to enjoy the desperately bad poetry the Pioneer Press packages their clues in:
Go take a risk, we threw the disk Where it seems you’re far from succeedin’ Unless you are blind, the treasure you’ll find Among plants that are unfit for weedin’.
- Joel Van Valin