Four Books by Ricky Garni
I know the poets Russell Edson and Alfred Starr Hamilton would love to meet Ricky Garni, for they are as quirky, and separate, and as original, as he. The three make the triumvirate of American poetry of the parenthetical thought, and only Edson has had the luck of gaining some attention from it. (Check out Russell Edson's newest too: The Tormented Mirror) Hamilton may be dead now for all I know. He would be 86 this year, I think, living hand-to-mouth in Montclair, NJ, with the Muse. (Be sure to read Jonathan Williams's essay on Hamilton in Blackbird Dust, a book reviewed in this issue.)
These four booklets, all handmade and published by Garni himself, continue the obsessively Marx Brothers madcap conversations Garni likes to hold with himself—and thus with our own little internal parentheses. As Garni states in the introduction to fred: "the moon attacks us all individually and collectively, sort of like an army does. that's what I love about it: I can whisper things to it, and some hear, some don't, but the body keeps going towards me, collectively, and yet, would it be a paradox to say, individually? I think it would. somehow, though, the whole body hears. maybe they all hear a little bit, or maybe together they hear it all." Paradox, fable, fun, and salt on the tongue, all flavor Garni's tales.
I suspect Ricky Garni is just too brilliant by far. He's writing at a higher pitch than most can hear. Maybe dogs can hear it. fred begins like this: "hi fred. would you like to / walk a little while with me? // there were eggshells on the grass /// sure, said fred. did you happen to see those / eggshells? /// that I did, I said, but I am tired. women / are tired. you, fred, are tired. /// are you saying that you don't want to walk / said fred. /// au contraire, I said, but have you / ever seen such vibrant colors?" This kind of Dadaist deconstruction of language makes for many dream-like moments. Is this a nightmare you say? Or will this turn out pleasantly? fred searches for his place, regains and loses it over and over again, and remembers, once asking the narrator, "do you remember back in the old days, where / we used to sleep// of course! we slept in the trees. I said. / yes! we did, and nothing ever bothered us, except, occasionally, other trees." Every now and then they would descend and "watch la dolce vita on the television." Garni always keeps you guessing. Even at the end. As in fred. Which closes with: "fred shut up."
Cloud Writing, dedicated to Garni's youngest son, tells of Garni's visits to his son's crib—whispering such things as "tomorrow the garbage men will come" into Dashiell's sleep-filled ears, or laying a sprig of wild jasmine on his pillow. This off-the-wall yet affectionate lullaby story's seventeen sentences carry immeasurable transitory grief and elated love. El Hombre masks itself as the outline of a story, each chapter presenting the linear facts so as to tell us the story. The heroes of the tale seek and catch fleeting glimpses of el hombre. One gathers finally, an understanding, that the heroes are tourists in Seville and the surrounding countryside and "hath given steadfast chase amid the cypress & pomegranates of granada." El hombre remains at large.
Garni tells us Wardrobe "is a tour of my clothes. I own very few items of clothing and so they are all very important to me and they are all very worn out except of course for the . . ." Thus begins a charming evening's entertainment meeting Garni's shoes, leather jacket, hat, sneakers, scarf, etc. But this misleads. For as always, Garni teases us to reveal. For example, "The Button" states simply: "A BUTTON IS / AN UNHOLY / THING." Or "The Cape": IF YOU WALK TO THE VESTIBULE AND SPY A MAPLE LEAF. AND SMELL LENTILS AND SAUSAGE COOKING NEARBY. AND NOTICE A PLUME OF BLUE SMOKE RISING FROM THE CHIMNEYS. AND HEAR THE SOUND OF DISTANT CHIHUAHUAS. AND WATCH A LITTLE GIRL ON A SWING AND WALK INSIDE AS YOU CONTINUE TO THINK ABOUT THE MAPLE LEAF. THE SMOKE RISING FROM THE CHIMNEYS AND THE DISTANT SOUND OF THE FARAWAY CHIHUAHUAS, THEN YOU ARE DEFINITELY NOT . . . WEARING A CAPE."
I hope somehow I've been able to express the subtle and comic abilities of Garni as a poet. The poems just can't be paraphrased—a sign of a real poem. I treasure my Garni books as among my most precious possessions. Garni's poems are wise, wisecracking, wry, wiggly, whimsical, restless, potent, and poignant. Kenneth Rexroth once told Jonathan Williams "Be careful, honey! Always wear a raincoat when you go up a dirt road." when Williams wanted to go after something that seemed unobtainable. Garni's poetry is like that. Wear a raincoat. Do an Internet search for "Garni" and you'll find other poems scattered in online journals.