Blues for Unemployed Secret Police
by John Bradley
Love won't behave," opens the first poem in this book. And that sets the mood for all that is to follow. Here is a book of poems that "won't behave."
At a time when publishers and poets seem to prefer poems that are so well behaved that they lead to terminal boredom, it's a pleasure to read these "ill-behaved" poems. Take the closing of "Blues" for example: "Come on over here and love me. / I used to say that drunk. / Now I'm stark raving sober / and I say, Come on over here and love me." Rather than take the safe route and simply condemn his previous behavior, this poet transforms his own drunken words, finding beauty in this passionate human plea.
For some, passion may imply a lack of craft or a lack of range. Neither is true with Blues for Unemployed Secret Police. Anderson's best poems evince a "craftiness," especially when he employs humor. This can be found in "Town Meeting," my favorite poem in the book. We hear the voices of citizens concerned with the homeless. The citizens show concern, however, not with the deprivations of the homeless, but rather with their lack of social etiquette. Multiple acts of copulation and defecation are cited. As the meeting winds down, the various charges comes to this: "one copulation, one defecation, / and then someone else said, / you don't have to be homeless to do that."
Or take "Crows," a Neruda-like ode that praises this often despised neighbor of ours. Anderson allows the crow his day in court: "Your Honor, I didn't / kill him, / just ate him / and I wasn't impressed." Once again, sly humor teases us out of our usual perspective.
It's only when, in the title poem for example, or in "Blues for Unemployed Mercenairies," Anderson's anger can lead to a heavy-handedness. But then writing about a South African sniper who uses a bullet made of ice (it melted in the victim's heart, leaving no forensic evidence), will trigger anger. In these two persona poems, the anger unfortunately reduces the voices at times to caricature. Despite such occasional faltering, Anderson still deserves credit for tackling topics that remain off limits not only for most poetry, but even our news coverage.
Blues for Unemployed Secret Police demonstrates a fearless poet, one who is unafraid of surveying the world around him or his own heart. He speaks with emotion, with honesty, with compassion. Anderson's poetry will leave you, as he states in the closing of "Return, Winter 1994," "one among many." What more could you ask of the blues?
Rain Taxi Online Edition, Summer 2000 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2000