Song of San Francisco
(poems)
Ed Mycue (Ghana 1961–63)
Spectacular Diseases Press
$10
18 pages
2012

Reviewed by Darcy Meijer (Gabon 1982-84)

I was happy to get a short book to review from John, but this chapbook of ten poems by Ed Mycue takes a lot of re-reading. When I first read the poems to my husband, he said, “Sure, I get them.” I challenged him to explain, and he said he couldn’t put it into words. I talked to Mycue about this, and he quoted Robert Frost: “What is lost in the translation is the poetry.” He also responded warmly to my specific questions about the poems and told me about his family and ideas about life. One small problem is that Mycue writes prose just as he writes poetry. So where does this leave me as a reviewer? I’ll try.

First, let me say that I understood three poems and parts of the seven others. Mycue’s themes include family, the struggle for selfhood, loneliness, death, and the city he loves so well, San Francisco. The idea of the first poem in the collection, “The Song if Cities Like Viruses,” is really clever.

is survival about leaving a message of what works
accruing gradually out of a pool of variations
because up to now evolution has no message call waiting.

And I liked “Memory Tongue” with its coy opener.

San Francisco, you
blind, handsome city,
your harbor has a stone
in its mouth. You
get washed in our
histories you write
in our lymph once
calf-white like your
promise now memory-
tongued, eggshell-
thin, raving for
healing this
desperate geography.

I like poetry, but I need something understandable to hang on to. Otherwise, the personal images and mixed up syntax block my ability to sense meaning. Then again, as Mycue says, “A poem doesn’t ‘mean’ in the same way as sensible prose.”

I asked Mycue why the successive “I went outs” in “I Went Out Into the Sun of Broken Glass.”

for the customary words everywhere joined like the ox
to the cart I went out queer, clumsy, red and egg-
shell thin drinking the evening thickening and soft
I went out quelling my angers getting jealous alone
trying it again before the sunset faded I went out with-
out thinking about my sexual mechanics about a reversal.

He responded, “A lot of ‘what ifs’ is a sun of broken glass, a kaliedscope. Part of a composition element I have had over a long period is what I tell myself is ‘remembered rhyme.’ What the mind loses from lack of discipline it gains from the freeing of boundaries where a pattern of words is repeated in the exact sound of some other quite different phrase. Composition to me in poetry is the composing of sound and sounds, thus words may or may not mean but suggest as well.”

I also wish I understood better lines like these from “Broke-Down:”

You might think that life pushes the envelope
edging a glint into some dark where the will
to dream is a swollen banshee penetration futures
the way photography winds over shifting time.

Mycue’s poetry has earned much praise and several awards. He is the writer of 10 poetry books and more than twenty chapbooks, of which Song of San Francisco is one. Mycue’s first book, Damage Within the Community, was selected by Library Journal as one of the ten best poetry books of the year.

By now, readers will have gathered that I’m no expert on the poems in Song of San Francisco. All I can say is that, though I don’t understand all of them, Ed Mycue is a sincere writer, and better poetry readers should look into his work.

Darcy Meijer was a TEFL in Gabon from 1982–84. She now lives in Abu Dhabi, the UAE, and teaches English at Zayed University.