Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Jack Phillips Lowe's Cold Case Cowboys (Book Review) by J.S.Watts

Cold Case Cowboys is the latest poetry chapbook from the American poet Jack Phillips Lowe, a collection of twenty-two poems ostensibly themed round the concept of the Western cowboy. These poems being based in the laconic and urban world that Lowe inhabits, however, the cowboys’ existence is not a conventional one, despite the traditional western images and illustrations attractively decorating the chapbook

Cold Case Cowboys, the title poem of the set, is a fantasy based around the 1960s TV Western series “Bonanza”. Whereas the actual series was an old school black hat/white hat saga designed for family viewing, the Bonanza of the poem is a whole lot greyer and cross-genre. Implausible plotlines are explained away by making the Pater familiaris of the drama a suspected serial killer and setting

                        “Lee Van Cleef and Chuck Connors
               as lawmen who work the frozen trails!”

up against him. The poem is both distinctive and amusing and a nice inversion of the Western status quo.

Other poems in the book explore the anxieties of childhood and the psychologist’s couch, relationships, literature, the after-life, celebrity and tensions between a father and a son; the cowboy motif running in and out of the pieces. When these poems work, they work well. I particularly liked “The Satisfaction” where

                        “In the Afterlife, my father sits calmly
                         watching John Wayne movies on TV”

He lives as parsimoniously in heaven as he did on earth except for the unanswered phone that rings constantly and the reason for this makes for a sad a thoughtful dénouement to the poem.

Lowe does seem to like a “ta dah!” flourish at the end of his poems and this does not always make for poetry as good as “The Satisfaction”. Poems such as the almost surreal “Think Highly”, “Important Too” and “A Rare and Singular Quality” feel a little clunky in their endings and, for me, would have been more satisfying if they had finished several lines or a stanza earlier. In particular, the last two lines of “A Rare and Singular Quality”,

                        “I like to think that she did.
                         Don’t you?”

feel unnecessarily instructive and prevent the reader from drawing their own conclusions, which is surely one of the attractions of poetry?

Lowe is not what I would call a lyrical poet. His voice is laconic and American and the style of these poems is dryly conversational. This fits the urban cowboy theme of the poems very snugly. From time to time though, I did wonder if he or I had wandered from poetry into prose. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: there’s an active prose-poetry movement on the up these days, but is worth noting if you like your poetry more ostensibly poetic. If, however, you like your poetry narrative and reflective of contemporary man-in-the-US-street existence, you might want to check out Cold Case Cowboys.

 Cold Case Cowboys by Jack Phillips Lowe is published by Middle Island Press and is available from  and

Author bio: 

J.S.Watts lives and writes in the UK. Her poetry and short stories appear in a diversity of publications in Britain, Canada, Australia and the States including: Mslexia and Polluto and have been broadcast on BBC and Independent Radio. She has published three books: a full poetry collection, "Cats and Other Myths" and a multi-award nominated poetry pamphlet, "Songs of Steelyard Sue", both published by Lapwing Publications and a novel, "A Darker Moon" - a dark literary fantasy, published in the US and the UK by Vagabondage Press. Further details  and on Facebook:

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