by Lorenzo Thomas
Coffee House Press, 116 pp., $15 (paper)
Lorenzo Thomas of Houston is a thinking-man's writer. His critical studies of folklore, modernism, and music are substantial works, and in both prose and poetry he always addresses the difficult issues. In "God Sends Love Disguised as Ordinary People," he asserts that "We never quite could tell/strength from stupidity/Pride in perseverance/The point where stubbornness/Purchased a harvest of futility." In a prose passage, he is as concise, cutting, and full of telling sound as in his poetry: "For a population addicted to entertainment, demented leaders have invented real war presented as games." Laced with unusual metaphors ("Mocking as sunrise/To insomniacs"), jazzy language ("It's tough being enough"), and witty love-talk ("Still/If we have nothing left/But carnal beauty//Well, I can live with that"), Thomas' book is more than the sum of its varied parts, since individual poems rise above even the best of his jivey, swinging pieces. "Dirge for Amadou Diallo" is a masterful elegy developed from a simple but poignant opening: "It is hard to have your son die/In a distant land." Here Thomas asks hard questions with no justifiable answers, but along the way offers his unabashed moral philosophy: "We'd understand/If someone said he was ... a prodigal://The kind of man who desperately/Needs the vise of suffering/And hurt and desolation/Some eccentricity to hold him firm/To help him shape his heart/Into an instrument of praise." Repeatedly Thomas calls into question our so-called values, as in "Dangerous Doubts," where he declares "That maybe exercise shows on TV/Are really harmful/That sound bodies just/Amplify our empty minds." Thomas' poetry brims with "dangerous" thoughts, expressed in phrases and images that are his alone. His latest book will satisfy discriminating readers long after the run-of-the-mill type has been quickly and rightly forgotten.
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