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With Fingers on the Tips of My Words: Poems Paperback – 2002
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Top Customer Reviews
Joe was raised in Cleveland Ohio. At 18 he began traveling around the country by whatever means were available. In 1979 he settled in Northern California: first San Francisco for two and a half years, then rural Humboldt County for 18 years. He currently lives in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco. The late poet James Broughton said of Arcangelini's poems in a 1995 letter, "There is a maturity, force, felicity of phrase, tenderness of feeling in your work." In a 1997 letter he referred to the "firm, consistent quality" of Arcangelini's poems. Patrick Califia, in his excellent introduction notes that Joe's poems record how gay lives often "collide with heterosexual expectations and assumptions about family" . Califia observes how Joe addresses feelings about being alienated from strait uncles and how the question of a gay man wanting a baby is fraught with mixed feelings.
Mr. Califia says that Joe documents gay culture: "our politics, eroticism, life transitions, relationships, institutions and sense of community." I agree with Mr. Califia about most of this, but Joe is not supportive of many institutions that I can see and does not want to be pigeonholed as only a gay writer. Following great nature writers such as Robinson Jeffers, Joe finds deep meaning in nature's anti-institutional otherness and diversity . As the great black and homosexual writer James Baldwin said, "Whenever nature is invoked to support our human divisions, [we have] every right to be suspicious, nature having betrayed only the most perplexing and untrustworthy interest in man and none whatsoever in his institutions."
Some of my favorite poems in the book are Joe's Nature poems such as "Kalmiopsis Burning", "Coyote Triptych" and "Ben Takes me to the Beach". Some of these poems evoke Robinson Jeffers' powerful California word canvasses. Indeed, Joe writes that "I've been trying to explain my attraction to Jeffers for over 30 years now, to myself as well as others. He makes me feel those landscapes, makes me feel a part of them, not apart from them. That is what I want to do: make people feel to be part of the landscape." And Joe does that: he makes you feel Northern California in images of seagulls and tide pool anemones. He speaks of Ohio too, where he grew up as a kid, and paints a portrait of a sad trip with father into the wet and dreary November corn fields near Oberlin, Ohio.
It is a sad book in many ways, with hints of breakdowns, thoughts of suicide, fights with depression, his father's loneliness and his mother's helplessness when his father died. He talks about the horror of the death of friends--- and "my heart fills with the dead... the dead fill my sleep" he says--- as he tries to understand why so many have died. He speaks of lovers who had AIDS in "Lover with Aids", "Dreams have more logic and nightmares make more sense" than Aids. He watches as so many die young and says "old age for us must be / whatever age we live to see. ".
There are humorous poems here too, such as the love poem to Charlton Heston. Joe fantasizes about the handsome Heston in such movies as Ben Hur and Planet of the Apes. Joe evokes the days before Heston became a right wing gun fanatic. Heston was once a liberal who supported civil rights and environmental causes. Gore Vidal helped write Ben Hur and intended the character Heston played to suggest homosexuality.
There are fine love poems here too, which show me again that the desires and pains of love are universal, regardless of sexual preference. Homosexuals and heterosexuals have the same needs and hopes, the same dreams and sorrows.
There are things in the book that do not attract my sympathy too. Joe apologizes for the hunting and killing animals. Thoreau rightly said that "no humane being, past the age of boyhood, will wantonly murder any creature" and that anyone who really studies nature, will mature and eventually "leave the gun and fish-pole behind".
But that said, this is a great book of poems, a portrait of a man of feeling, weathered in deep losses, casual, inclusive, Whitmanesque,--- a man who loves nature and a man and who stands up to be himself and generously shares what he has experienced with us.
I am afraid that I did not know you were a homosexual when we had a recent dinner. So I was indeed shocked by much of the content of your book of "poems," which you presented to me. I had intended to share them here at the seminary with the other friars, but now I am having second thoughts about that.
On the other hand, they might relate to your poems involving whips and other implements of discipline and -- dare I say it? -- physical torture. Naturally the friars do not derive any pleasure whatsoever from such activities. That would offend the sensibilities of Our Lord. Either you or your persona (believe me, I know all about those unreliable narrators!) seem to feel otherwise. I did like the Catholic guilt that pervades your work. I feel that Mother Church did her job there!
Mother Church aside, I was afraid I wouldn't like the poems, but I did. What is so good about them is their honesty, plain, relatively understandable, unadorned confrontation with pain, need, loneliness, being with somebody, being without somebody, trucking through life with just a body and a pencil as defense. (My own poems tend to be much too melancholy for their own good. Yours are melancholy but not self-pitying, an amazing accomplishment.)
You are part of what I now call Bear Beats Poets, they of the gay holocaust and beer bust at the Spike. Or the Anvil. Or how about Manly Men of Mendocino?
I did not read Mr. Califia's introduction until after I read your poems. I think he gets it right. It is somewhat unclear here on Amazon who wrote this book and who wrote the introduction.
The poems I liked the most were the ones with long lists, repeating phrases with variations. I did think the Kent State poem a bit too polemical for my taste.But over and over again I was impressed by the blatant, naked emotionality on display.
You really ought to get another book out. Time's a-wastin'! --by Daniel Curzon, writing as Friar Lancelot