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.