Sunday, March 22, 2009

Train to Chihuahua (Book Review) by David McLean

Travis Blair's Train to Chihuahua
by David McLean

Travis Blair's first full-length book is an anthology of his poems about Mexico, a record of his youthful trips to Mexico that are crafted to also homage a love, a relationship to a woman, at least i hope it's one woman who is the she in all the poems where a name is unspecified, and to time, death and aging. Frida Kahlo, Jesus and Janis Joplin are there. If the essence of poetry is nostalgia for presence, poems being then postcards from nowhere describing something we assume really existed, or ought to exist, then these poems are a beautiful revenge on ugly time and its “It was.” It's as though Mexico symbolizes a source of ineffable fertility and density of being, a color in the gray that life so easily becomes, a place where the actual living happens, in penury and abjection sometimes, but always alive, and Travis feels himself real there, not where we acquire large dogs, jobs, and mortgages without really noticing while we are stupefied by ambitious self-medication, but a special place the light and colors let him see what is inside him.

She smiled
when I shook them to hear
their seed sounds
and feel them brush
against the skin
like our baby kicking
inside her belly.

For years
the green maracas have hung
on a wall in my den
gathering dust
like moss in the trees
of Chapultepec Park
when love long ago
was fertile
and we were young.

The poems incorporate descriptions of nature that are often quite phenomenal, showing a genuine ability to swiftly make anything from a heron to a seal live for us a moment with just the right number of words, an ability to create the colors in us. And these splashes of described life are contextualized into the poet's experience of his being, his need

Four months after death
tapped me on the shoulder
handed me a brainstem stroke
I return once more
to the Sea of Cortez –
a broken poem
void of rhythm and rhyme
clumsy-worded as my gait
empty of all grace
seeking a way back.

Mornings I laze
on a back porch hammock
gazing at the sea
drawn to the sight of seals
floating on their backs
noses in the air, flippers waving
above the whitecaps
their playful barks resonant
as baritones calling me
“Come play with us.”
But I am afraid to swim
out beyond the rocks.

All in all, the poems in this book hang together beautifully, and they are an intoxicating world of shades, hues, and odors where bulls sometimes gore bullfighters, where we do get to swim out beyond the rocks and the seals are happy for that, where owls sit vivid in dead trees and wait for civilization to fall asleep. One poem in the book describes finding a perfect beach off the beaten tourist track. That's what this book is like, a special afternoon from somebody's life that you get to share, to see and smell the experiences that made them a unique individual, in this case the poet Travis Blair. If you don't buy it then you may regret that your life is so gray, but it will be your own fault, not time's, because now is the time to do it and I told you so, fuckers, so go do it.

Editor's note: Train to Chihuahua is published by Old Seventy Creek Press and can be purchased at:

Author bio:

David McLean is Welsh but has lived in Sweden since 1987. He lives there in a cottage on a hill with a woman, five selfish cats, and a stupid puppy. He has a BA in History from Oxford, and an unconnected MA in philosophy, much later, from Stockholm. Details of his three available full length poetry books, various chapbooks, and 850 poems in or forthcoming at over 340 places online or in print over the last couple of years, are at his blog at Mourning Abortion. He never submits by snail mail since he has little money and since he loves, or at least doesn't have anything against, trees. There's a new chapbook of dead snakes at Rain over Bouville, another is coming from Poptritus Press in the summer sometime. A novella Henrietta forgets is forthcoming from Isms Press. Round the beginning of next year a large 250 page anthology of his poetry called laughing at funerals will be appearing with Epic Rites Publications, as well as a 50 poem chapbook called Hellbound which is appearing sooner. For Epic Rites he edits the chapbook series and the e-zines lines written w/ a razor and the thin edge of staring, as well as selecting work for the radio network.

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