Poemviews by Kurt Brown:
Blue Rust, Joe Millar, Carnegie-Mellon University Press

Two ghosts, Larry Levis and James Wright,

hover over these poems, nodding their approval.

I don’t know how Millar descends from them

but in college, I had a crazy chef with blue

distended eyes, half of what he cooked imprinted

on his apron as he swilled the sherry he was

meant to pour into the soup. He was what

a working man should be, and he looked life

directly in the eye, as Joe Millar does in these

portraits of a proletarian life spent stringing wire

or shivering in a boat “hoping the salmon

will finally arrive.” The deep image, famous

in the 60s, reappears here, transforming

sense into a rare fantasia where the Dog Star

“stares straight / down in our yard”

and “ice booms and cracks / like a rifle

going off in a vault.” Millar’s imagery shimmers

with more than literal meaning, lending

his poems a magical air, a worldly-other-worldly

aspect only the best poets can manage.

And if gathering a sense of timelessness and infinity

into a poem is one of the signs of greatness,

then Millar’s “Ocean” is a great poem.

In “Urban Coyote,” he’s both man and beast,

as many of us are, wild and domesticated

at the same time; and in “Fire” an inventory

of engine parts skins its knuckles on American words,

hot, flanged, and brutal. There’s nothing

too common or mundane Millar can’t make exceptional

by bestowing his intense gaze, real things

invested with the glory of simply existing:

motorcycles and breasts, iron stoves, the humble

human ear, cole slaw, lead type, and “locking c-clamps,

their jaws heat tolerant to 300 degrees.”

Here is the vocabulary of labor and machinery

lifted into art, with the unmistakable ring of literature.

I can’t say enough about these superb poems,

but I can say too much. If you love poetry, buy this book.

It’ll get your blood pumping.