Ernesta, in the Style of Flamenco by Sandy McIntosh
(Marsh Hawk Press, New York, 2010)
In Ernesta, in the Style of Flamenca, Sandy McIntosh concocts poetry that resembles roulette wheels: the poems have a playfulness, but also a dead seriousness about them.
He can be blunt, as in Our 'Hood:
Neighbors steal from neighbors. They exchange possessions,
dress and thought. And so, over the years, have transformed
themselves into the people from whom they stole.
There are two long narrative poems that begin the book: one about a 19th century composer, told in tongue-in-cheek but fairly straightforward narrative, the other a wildly funny mock mystery called "Minute Mysteries: The New Adventures of Inspector Shmegegi and Monica." These two are followed by a section called "Among the Disappointments of Love," and then another long poem which can easily be read as a dramatic monologue, "Nathan, in the Ancient Language."
There is something very Kafka-esque about McIntosh's imagination, but also something of Raymond Carver. As an example of the Raymond Carver echoes, here's a line from "Our 'Hood":
Our neighbor's house caught fire -- something about a
cigarette tossed into lighter fluid just to see what would
Is that tone not so Carver-esque, so pointedly bitter and ironic?
But McIntosh's poetry (perhaps more aptly described as flash fiction, in some instances) is more generous than Carver's, more willing to display the author's hand.
Sometimes he reminds one of Grace Paley. The narrator -- and there does seem to be a single narrator for many of the poems -- suffers an array of indignities, most connected to the idea of being scorned.
Here is a passage from "Among the Disappointments of Love" whose biting, ironic dialogue strongly recalled Grace Paley's short short, "Wants" :
"I can't marry you, after all.
Tomorrow I leave
For the Antipodes
Never to return!"
I had not asked her to marry me!
There is a wonderful piece entitled "Partial Menu of Dishes Returned to the Kitchen by a Fromer Girlfriend which consists of a table listing such items as :
Nathan's Coney Island/ Food: Hot dog/ Reason returned: Roll "too mushy"/ Action Taken: Turned nose up at counterman
Masa, New York City/ Food: Sushi/ Reason returned: "Not fresh enough"
In the end, the breeziness cannot conceal the pain. The poet cares deeply about, occasionally is even angered by, human limitations:
In "To a Former Playmate of the Month," the playmate confides to a friend that she dreams of the faces of strangers. The friend thinks:
. . . For so long
You've been stared at
In stale marriages,
Or those too shy to find their own playmate.
It seems justice
That you get
To study them
Even the most appalling hurt can be borne, can be transmuted into wit and irony. That is this writer's admirable skill.
Marianne Villanueva is the author of the short story collections GINSENG AND OTHER TALES FROM MANILA (Calyx), MAYOR OF THE ROSES (Miami University Press) and THE LOST LANGUAGE (Anvil Press of the Philippines). Next to writing short stories, she loves reading poetry and writing book reviews.