Expansive Poetry & Music Online Poetry Review

Miles David Moore

The Bears of Paris

By Miles David Moore
published by Word Works Capital Collection
review by Arthur Mortensen

Except where marked, lines cited are from The Bears of Paris by Miles David Moore
Copyright (c) 1995 by Miles David Moore

Miles David Moore is one of those poets who hasn't learned yet that humor is regarded as a misdemeanor by some and a Class B Felony by other critics on the American poetic scene. Humor to convey something other than a pristine moral, usually the case with Moore, is an even greater offense, akin to high treason, though in such a case more likely to result in 30 years of employment in a junior college instead of death by needle squad at eight in the morning. Eight o'clock classes apparently having lost their one-time glamor, it is doubtful, in any event, that anyone would witness such an execution. Further endangering his reputation and possibly his legal status as a citizen in the nation of the arts, Moore also writes intensely serious narratives which, in some critic's eyes, is akin to interrupting a lecture on Deconstruction with the announcement that a tornado is about to hit the auditorium. Is the risk borne out in the quality of the work?

Similar to the old hidden-ball trick that plagued base runners like this reviewer as a child, Moore puts a lot of serious stuff first, possibly with the assumption that reviewers won't get past page 32. Some do, and find such as the following:

The last thing Fatslug saw
before falling asleep on the sofa
was the TV turned to one
of the artier cable channels
when a Russian cartoon came on
(or maybe Bulgarian -- the credits
were entirely in Cyrillic).
It was about a couple 
and their pet.  The husband
was blue, the wife a hen,
the pet a worm with a man's face
and they, like the building
they lived in, were covered
with gray pustules of putrefaction.
They spoke in shrieks and grunts
while their Victrola played
incomprehensibly passionate
Slavic ballads, when a knock
rattled their door.  A visitor
wearing Homburg, mustache and mask
and laughing likeVincent Price
gave them a box of hard candy....

	from "Fatslug Celebrates"

This very funny description of those surreal Eastern European cartoons of the late Western Empire's glory days is then followed by Fatslug's waking up hours later to a news broadcast no less surreal, and in Italian. Aside from its very evocative observations, giddy tone, and bouncy three beat line (well, almost three almost all of the time), the poem's meaning requires no critic's line by line elucidation. Instead, it's content and the method used to convey it are satisfying in and of themselves. I don't think this would a very popular piece at Harvard, nor all of the other Fatslug poems in this section. But then, as a literary figure, Fatslug probably wouldn't fit in a chair that small.

It is that no nonsense, direct approach to irony or comedy that makes Moore's work in these poems so appealing. Of course, wan blondes tanned for that copper-plated look and bulging here and there are also appealing. Perhaps a better word would be accessible, although in the context of some wan blondes that might be considered offensive.

Glaring through the cherry-blossomed streets,
the biggest sticker on the red rustbucket
pickup slaps Fatslug and everyone else
sitting on the bus's left side.

The pickup's driver, a Woodstock blonde --
straight stringy hair and Led Zep fanning out
from her open window, a worn flannel shirt
hanging like a tent over past-ripe breasts --
stares stonily ahead, trailing behind her,

Armored against the world by a motorized
punch in the nose, she is safe,
separate, discrete in her indiscretion.
Obviously, she knows Fatslug
is on the bus...
	from "Fatslug and the Bumper Stickers"

In case you wondered what happened after The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, this poem of being nudged out of the stagnant flow and hitting the great Superhighway at 55 might give you an idea. As before, Moore has little use for post-Eliot subtleties of reference nor for that great Modernist's posture of being on a platform too high to notice the world of other contemporaries. Instead, Moore chooses, as do many Expansive poets, to refer to the places, the pace and familiar faces of the time we're living in. One might wish that Moore would investigate a little more the utility of meter and rhyme in working such territory, which he does with great effect in other poems, but this will do.

He materializes from the camouflage
of President's Park, and weaves around
the Treasury Building's wrought-iron fence,
his sneakers kicking a soft-drink cup.
A ponytail trickles from the back of his helmet
and down his battle fatigues.  His knapsack
has a ponytail too -- fluorescent orange
cord, dangling to the sidewalk.
                                                 FREAK ALERT!
FREAK ALERT! Fatslug shifts into warp-speed....
to get past this idiot.

		from "Fatslug Meets a Poet"

Rude, that. The poem then goes on to neatly mock such a poet's refusal to notice the details of life visible to any good eye in a very late 20th century American neighborhood. This is a major theme in Moore's Fatslug sequence, concluding with "Call from a Fan," a dramatic monologue delivered by a woman who, though she has a fantastically busy life as a "housewife from Fauquier County," wants to participate in a poetry slam. Her detailing of her life is more interesting than most poems you'll ever hear at a reading of poetry, because they're so well-observed.

Time for the serious stuff, then, because well-observed is what they are. Back to page 12, and "Dead Boy in the Road at Fredericksburg," a Civil War poem, increasingly common from southern writers, that looks at the war as wars should be looked at, not as a heroic exercise, but as a disaster that could have been prevented by sensible human beings.

"You're pictured blankly, in all-neutral tones.
Flung like a starfish on the trampled sod,
You lie still as Virginia takes your bones
And yields them up to Brady and to God.
At least your family was spared the horror
Brought to our time at six in living color.

But not the anguish of the empty chair
At supper, or the last of each cross word,
Or half-dreamed listening to hear your bare
Feet on the stairs..."

The use of the stave of six stanza, ABABCC, one of Matthew Arnold's favorites, risks a sound to the poem which might contradict its message, but, as John Masefield's use of rime royal, Moore manages a rhythm using enjambment and caesura that conveys a tone of grave seriousness, without which this poem would lose its very strong effect. It's necessary to hear this, however; poetry, a performance art from its beginning, and practiced as such very well by Moore, needs to be heard, particulary when it uses devices as rhyme and what have already been mentioned in Moore's handling of line endings and breaks.
Between the gum and the underwear
displays, the purple plastic hen
twirls on her dimestore weathervane
and squawks electrically for a quarter...

	from "Plastic Hen."

From this slight but vivid poem that swoops from a still life to a moment of magic, to the Fatslug sequence's mordant humor, to the seriousness of such poems as "A Face from Tianmamen" and "Stranger at the Wheel," Moore puts many pictures up in his gallery, most of which are well worth the wait and none of which require an essay about their meaning. He writes so well using meter, stanza and rhyme that one wishes he would do more of it, exploring its facility not only in serious poems such as "Confederate Boy..." but especially in reinforcing the punch of comic poems. But the complaint is not so large as it would be if the content, sharp observation, and vivid and modern diction were not present, as they are and in great abundance.

The Bears of Paris is recommended. Arthur Mortensen

Publisher Information
The Bears of Paris
is published by:
Word Works Capital Corporation
The Word Works
Washington, DC

The Bears of Paris

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