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spacer.gif   TOP DOG: LARRY JANOWSKI
Posted by : cj on Thursday, August 30, 2007 - 08:58 PM
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Chicago Poetry Reviews: Click Headlines .
BrotherKeeper
by Larry Janowski
Puddin'head Press
Reviewd by C. J. Laity


Once again Dave Gecic of Puddin'head press shows off his expertise by publishing Larry's Janowski's BrotherKeeper, one of the finest poetry books to come out in 2007.

Janowski begins his book with a punch and keeps the momentum of his narrative verse going steady up until the last few poems; then they become more self-reflecting and abstract. His lines of poetry are as taut as piano strings and just as musical. In some ways his poems are completely universal, but they always remain unique and original. Though some of his poems at first glance come off as insightful internal thoughts and attitudes, that come to him as he experiences a specific moment in life, there is a lot more going on in the infinite spaces between his lines. Janowski finds deep meaning in the most common of things, such as losing a wallet or being nude. He has a splendid freshness to his subject matter. How many other poems have you read about "Wet Cars" for example, or about a "Transfusion" or about celibacy or spinning around in circles? He often takes a very simple object, such as the Pooh doll in his poem "Face Down", and creates an entire universe around it, and by doing so he shows us that everything in life is connected. At times, Janowski creates clear and concise images existing in vast environments with as few as three words, such as the words "ruin my clothes" in the poem "Sitting Up Nights". The pure magic comes when we see what Larry has not even mentioned, perhaps what he himself has not seen.

A few of his poems do involve brothers, and the wider theme of family relations runs through many of his poems, by means of Janowski's imagination as well as by means of very candid memoir-poems having to do with mental and physical scars. I like how Janowski doesn't give us a moral to his stories, but hits us on the head with reality as if it is a big chunk of ice. The theme of physical contact is also explored often and very powerfully, especially in juxtaposition to the title poem, which is about the tragedy at the Ida B. Wells Project when five-year-old Eric Morse was dropped out of a 14th floor window to his death.

BrotherKeeper is a Chicago classic. There is much Chicago nostalgia in this book. It's as if Janowski soars around the city from neighborhood to neighborhood, landing here or there and giving us glimpses of moments in time. He salutes his city with his dedications to people, many of them recognizable names from the Chicago Poetry Scene. He also focuses in on a lot of local subject matter, such as in the poem "I Have Decided Not To Be...", which is a poem about Chicago that doesn't even use the word Chicago, or his many references to the local weather, or:

when it's as hot as it is today and the Blue Angels
buzzed Chicago with their shock of speed and
warplay and now sweating happy crowds
are heading back home from the lakefront


(from "Blue Angels")

There is no doubt that Janowski has his own signature wit. I enjoyed the occasional bouts of humor in BrotherKeeper, when he plays around with words, such as when he compares his life to the movie Shane in the poem "False Gods", or:

All it really takes to be a man is a why-chromosome,
being dumb enough not to cry when something hurts,
lucky enough to survive boyhood, and enough testosterone
to fight when someone says you throw like a girl,


(from "Superman's Funeral")

but I also enjoyed Janowksi's profound and serious moments:

The God who squeezed chaos into light
without getting dirty under nis nails,
is up to his elbows in mud making you,


(from "Man Making")

Janowski explores a variety of writing styles including found poems and even a cantata. He offers wonderful comparisons and contrasts:

but air cares even less
than water, lets you
slip through,
without even a wake
to mark your passing


(from "BrotherKeeper")

and similes:

I press into strong hands that rub my back
as if I am a lamp with a secret inside . . .


(from "Sitting Up Nights")

or:

. . . the sweet choke
of incense snaking up the sleeve of his cassock
like the call of vocation rising to his brain.


(from "First Words")

Each poem in BrotherKeeper is different than the next, but each poem has something in common with the rest, a musicality to its language that allows it to be strong on the page as well as the stage. The poetry in BrotherKeeper is soaked with a gorgeous sentimentality:

The day his kisses stop
I will not blame him
since I know a man's dread
of softness . . .


(from "The Goodbye Kiss")

I give BrotherKeeper two big quills up.

--CJ Laity

For ordering information about BrotherKeeper, Click Here.

Go Back to the other Top Dogs.



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Note: Here is a review of Larry Janowski's new book, BrotherKeeper.

 
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