Review of poems by Ed Mycue (Ghana 1961-63) Song of San Francisco

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.

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  • This review goes back four and a half years and I wonder if I ever thanked the reviewer (and her husband who she says said that he got them when she asked him about them) who seems a fine and sincere reader on what maybe a literal level maybe. But if not, I thank her now re-reading her review from April 5, 2013.
    This brings up something I wrote way back (an except from something longer written in the late 1960’s and parts of which will now and then swim up from some triggering) : “A word is a sound / but a dangerous thing. / It changes meaning / like a magic ring. / Harder to handle / than a whip or gun / and vaguely fearsome / like a mean son.” Poems are like that also.
    I listened and listen again to Darcy Meijer and where she may be teaching now and how old their kids are and what she is writing. I’m 80 now and spend some time looking back and imagining forward, and Darcy Meijer must be in her 50’s (since she was in Gabon in 1962-4) . As with other correspondents and pen pals even unmet you feel or begin to gradually believe you know them from the “Dear Friend” missives. Before her review was written, she wrote me and asked questions and framed queries about how I wrote and looked at poems I recall, and this I remember was by email. They were questions earned truly from her own writing experience and teaching English as a foreign language and writing novels, but they just flummoxed me. I didn’t have her background. So there we both were coming at writing but not on the same page. Now, ruminating about it it seems I have learned a bit more about writing from the exchange and the years now since then. With me much is a sense of apprenticeship and discovery and no sense at all of destiny. She has helped me see that. Josephine Miles a poet friend dead now 3 decades was interested in the idea of error and mistake and thought we ought to erase blame by dwelling more on seeing journey as apprenticeship. The late Judith Wright of Australia (in her poem “The Morning Of The Dead”): It is the eyes of that dead that memory / most ponders over, seeing a rain of crystals / time-long carrying back to earth their vision; / the insect’s towers of eyes; birds’ light-filled circles; / the fierce or gentle looks of animals / that half-see meaning….” My writing of THE SONG OF SAN FRANCISCO published some 20+ years and over a hundred pages emerged finally as 10 small poems following some hurricane years of deaths, sorrowings, and just growing older and less sure of everything. So there it ended and I was lucky a published took it after a period of many years and him deciding to close his press over there in England and tie up some unfinished promises.

    My most recent poem (or call it ‘piece’ because the margins blur the edges of form) is this following;

    FOR YOU (for you.) ( Life is a chronic degenerative condition. Get used to it.)

    You’ll need a photo id because at this time of your life you have to consider you are parked in the yellow zone having to get your act more together now in a hot thirty minutes where the tides give a performance in an analog to the same in Bodega Bay where you must now go to ruminate (during a tour of the U.C. Davis Marine Biology Lab). 100 trillion of organisms live within us and we have to feed them with garlic and leeks. You are now in charge. Going forward. You don’t have to devote your valuable time to poetry and such where you have to be a ‘cognizente’. You do need to move on to science — half of the apple life comes from. You could be able to live your life as a jellyfish haiku — Squishy-skuishy little fishy got no brain but is oh so dishy.

    In life so far I have learned about protocol and preparation of getting the pencils ready and the clay mixed. Oh and get your last rites done before the surgery. “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” wailed the leader of the pack. “Fairy Cake” they shouted back. So if your name has a vowel in it this is it for you.

    © Copyright Edward Mycue 29 / X / 2017

    • A word is a sound, but a dangerous thing.
      it changes meaning like a magic ring –

      harder to handle than a whip or gun,
      and vaguely fearsome like a violent son.

      Words of yesterday and tomorrow too
      Are too many too many and too many too few.

      (from the Texas and Hell poem published in DAMAGE WITHING THE COMMUNITY, 1973)

  • Here is Josephine Miles’ take on “apprenticeship” versus “mischances, mistakes & errors” : the part on Abraham Lincoln within her longer poem “For Magistrates,” COLLECTED POEMS 1930-1983 (U of ILLINOIS PRESS 1983)
    ………………………………….
    “Shaving, an uncle asks,
    What is this face before me in the mirror?
    Look well, children, for you see
    A face that may grow handsomer every day.
    Not Alger, not Narcissus in the stream.

    Gazing at it, would the martyr ghost
    Returned from the grave
    Ask, Is this the face I shaved?

    As we search the photographs, bearded to full-whiskered,
    We watch a man not yet forty
    Who might be years younger
    Develop into an ageless ancient, which indeed his secretaries called him
    He would be considered no worldly success till late in his career

    But his many failures read
    Less as mischance than as apprenticeship.

    The superiority of Abraham Lincoln over other statesmen
    Lies in the limitless dimension of a conscious self,
    Its capacities and conditions of deployment.

    In 1863 Walt Whitman watched him
    During some of the worst weeks of the war.
    I think well of the President. He has a face
    Like a Hoosier Michael Angelo, so awfully ugly
    It becomes beautiful, with its strange mouth,
    Its deep-cut crisscross lines,
    And its doughnut complexion.
    Suffering endured stoked his energy
    With penetration and foresight, often hidden from contemporaries,
    Visible
    Through restored photos.”

    (The above is on pages 250-251within “The Magistrates”, the book’s final poem, on pages 247-253)
    Josephine or Jo as I called her is amon the truest and finest poets (thinker-as-poet, too) I have known in my life (well George Oppen and Ann Stanford and Lawrence Fixel are in the mix there as well).

    Sometimes I view the conclusion of my life as a poet the way the poet and translator Lennart Bruce (Swedish, who published in English and lived in San Francisco, then Walnut Creek — generally same age group as George, Ann and Jo) told me — that the triumph for him would be that by his end he had added one grain to the shore.

    © Edward Mycue 3 September 2015

  • I see now that what I write

    comes from a deck of words that play and go in arrangements of words, phrases, ideas back, forth, circling, twisting the way it lives — a “mobius-type” strip revealing different arrangements of the same thing differently — from the alphabets of everything I have learned and written. I have from the first seen it as my tapestry worked over, over. It is all finally the same fabric, a damask depiction & overlaid.

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