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Sunday, April 24, 2016

P. J. Laska "Morning In America A Poetic Assemblage From The Long Decade"

P. J. Laska “Morning In America A Poetic Assemblage From The Long Decade”
Igneus Press 2016 $8.50 Paperback
              Appalachian poet and philosopher P. J. Laska could not have chosen a better or more appropriate time to release his new book, “Morning In America A Poetic Assemblage From The Long Decade”.  "Morning In America" by P. J. LaskaThe book is, as the subtitle suggests, an assemblage of poetry and Socratic teaching set as an ongoing discussion between his protagonist, Dominic Love, and a friend named Anonymas.  The book’s title hails back to a fine collection of poetry which Laska also published with Igneus Press in 1991.  The earlier book was a collection of powerful, kick like a mule poetry which bewailed the destructive policies of the Reagan Administration.  The new book uses the same kind of philosophically based poetry and the Socratic Method to attempt to educate the world to the current political reversion in a large chunk of the American populace toward such destructive and debilitating politics.  Some of the poetry was contained in the earlier work but much of the text is brand new and just as powerful.
              The poetry is reminiscent of the best work of another native West Virginian, Former Heavyweight Champion Jack Dempsey, who grew up in the coalfields of Logan County just as P. J. Laska was raised in an immigrant coal mining family in northern West Virginia.  The poetry attacks a problem in ways very similar to Jack Dempsey attacking an opponent in the ring.  Two or three light poetic jabs flick across the attention span of the reader before being followed by a head jarring left hook which delivers a key philosophical and political concept which points out how the American military industrial complex has controlled and manipulated both the American populace and much of the greater world over the years from the Viet Nam War to the current conflicts in Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq. Laska knows just as well as Dempsey how to deliver a critical blow and both learned it in the coalfields of Appalachia.
 The reader should also keep in mind that before Laska became a doctoral level philosopher poet he was a Viet Nam era military analyst and linguist.  Before he was a finalist for a National Book Award in the 1970’s, he learned both Russian and English as a child in a coal mining family of immigrants.  Before P. J. Laska adopted Buddhism as a central pillar of his life, he prepared the host and ceremonial garments in his local Catholic church as an altar boy.  P. J. Laska is a man of the world who has risen from relative poverty to national recognition as a poet, philosopher, critic, essayist, educator, and magazine editor.  This book is the culmination of a lifetime of deep thought on the part of a highly contemplative man who was moved to consider many paradoxes in the world including poverty & wealth, government & citizenship, socialism & oligarchy, as well as good & evil.  In his new book, Laska reminds those of us who forgot and hopes to instruct those who never knew that in many cases oligarchy and evil won. 
The opening poem in the book is a republication of the title piece from “The Day The Eighties Began” which reminds us of the day Ronald Reagan was allowed by organized labor and the American populace to fire the nation’s air traffic controllers, an act which began a slippery slope in American politics and public thought which has continued in the disasters of trickledown economics, the Iraq War and that country’s subsequent fragmentation and the birth of both Al Qaeda and Isis.  It is easy for a devoted reader of poetry to hear this discussion of the work and choose to avoid such directly political poetry.  But keep in mind, this poet was a finalist for a National Book Award with his first book, “D. C. Images And Other Poems”.  He is a fine writer and this is excellent, well-constructed, linguistically artful poetry.  These poems are well deserved candidates for any future anthology of Appalachian or American poetry.  Many of them have been previously competitively selected and published in highly respected magazines.  This author’s personal favorite is the poem “Down And Back” which is set as a story of driving through an Appalachian night, picking up a hitchhiker, and discussing the utterly human consequences of the economics of oligarchy.  A working mother tries to rationalize how she will handle the loss of her Black Lung benefits.  The hitchhiker says it all in the powerful sentence, “You don’t know what you can stand ‘till it comes around”.  And that, my friend, is a sentence which has come out of the mouths of many thousands of Americans who have suffered the consequences of “The Long Decade”. 
Buy this book! Read it closely and slowly! Give yourself time to consider ruminatively all you find in it which provokes such consideration.  Then, when the dust in your head has settled from that last linguistic left hook, go back and read it again. 

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