Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Still Night Sessions: Review by Jim Bouery

When you read a poem or short story by John Patrick Robbins you’re heading into some truly direct, honest, and often disturbing territory. This collection made up of poems and stories, (and poems that feel like stories) is some of Mr. Robbins strongest work yet. Don’t expect to find poetry that tiptoes around its subjects. Don’t expect delicate language or obscure metaphor. Humor, dark and self-deprecating, is often lurking where it might be inappropriate. In fact, sometimes the darkest pieces seem to have a punch line at the end.

Academic poetry purists, if they come across this book, would likely dismiss it after the first few lines. A poem titled In Memory of You begins

There is an app for everything, even to tell you the last time
you washed your ass. 
But at times I wish there was one to tell people when they
should really shut the fuck up.

An academic would complain about the lack of subtlety, the absence of metaphor and the prose-like diction. But Mr. Robbins doesn’t care what the academics or poetry snobs might think. His writing is immediate and driven by an obsession to make it completely self-expressive. Reading these poems and stories is like tearing the pages out of the notebook he’s writing in as he drinks spiked coffee at the breakfast table, or, more likely, as he’s jotting lines down on cheap napkins in a corner bar where he’s tossing back shots with beer chasers.

The reader of this book sometimes feels like a voyeur. The author doesn’t worry about syntax or punctuation. There is no filter here, screening out or hiding emotions or opinions. And the themes of these poems are loneliness, lost love, writing, the dishonesty rampant in the conventional publishing world, leading a dissolute life, and more (self-imposed) loneliness. 

In Doin Time Within My Mind (sic) the author seems to be begging for that feeling of being alone:

If I was to spend my existence in false imprisonment then
dear Lord please give me solitary confinement.

This theme arises several times. And a memory about attempted suicide shows up in a poem titled Company Time. Several poems about the difficulty of interpersonal relationships reinforce the poet’s sense of aloneness. These are often vulnerable and sympathetic, even while they show a streak of paranoia. In Memphis, a poem ostensibly about admiring a woman he sees in a bar, we feel a sense of mistrust and harsh self-awareness in this line:

My dear I will just have to admire you from afar as I decay,
in the distance.

Some poems are disparaging of other authors while extolling honesty. Mr. Robbins has critical words for Hemingway, Bukowski, J. D. Salinger and Jack Kerouac. The criticism is not so much about their work as about their character. He is kindest to Bukowski and seems to identify with him, particularly as a loner. At other times, the author is critical of himself, but there is little self-pity in any part of this book. And it should be noted that this collection has a famous quote from Ernest Hemingway just after the title page.

The few short stories (or are they long poems?) in the collection are not identified as such and read like dialogues between the narrator and another person. No French Quarter, Who is Tommy, Reading vs Comprehension, Sky Lanterns, and Indiana Cold are all longer pieces with a strong narrative line, yet they also have a structure similar to Mr. Robbin’s poems. Like quality “flash fiction” these pieces are immediately engaging, realistic, and follow a clear story arc. And, in the end, it doesn’t matter if they are long poems or short stories. They are effective and do exactly as the author intended.

This collection is not without its tender moments. It can be found in Let’s Drop Acid, Across Something, A Note Before Our Farewell, and Charley Doesn’t Dream Here Anymore. The last poem is one of those longer pieces that could be mistaken for a short story. It has some very gentle and quietly poetic moments as it explores the declining memory and life of a veteran. These lines are especially poignant:

Turning into a stranger is a horrible sort of disease that eats
away at the soul.

Some of the best modern poetry (and fiction) can be found online in ezines and blogs and journals. Mr. Robbins is a presence in this world and has brought to public attention dozens of poets and authors. He has also brought authors who work in more conventional venues into his online world. And as he has been doing this work as an editor and publisher he has also been constantly writing, producing poetry and fiction that can shake up our presumed perceptions about the life of an author and editor. This collection showcases an honest, driven voice. It is a voice full of pain, anguish, humor, empathy, and creative spirit. Check it out. Your life will be richer.

Jim Bourey is an old poet who divides his year between the Adirondack Mountains and Dover, Delaware. His chapbook “Silence, Interrupted” was published in 2015 by the Broadkill River Press. His work has appeared in Mojave River Review, Paddock Review, Gargoyle and the Broadkill Review and other journals and anthologies. He was first runner up in the Faulkner-Wisdom Poetry Competition in 2012 and 2016. He has served as an adjudicator for the Poetry Out Loud competition in Delaware. In his North Country months, he is active with the St. Lawrence Area Poets and has taken part in Art/Poetry projects in Saranac Lake.


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  2. James Bourey's words have captured the context and ethos of this book perfectly. John Patrick Robbins never writes to impress. He writes from his solitary view on what he views inside and out. This is a book I will always keep.


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