A collapsed sun in your pocket: The poetry of Michael Odom

odomI once wrote in this column that Michael Odom’s poetry reminded me in certain aspects—not in every way, of course, because he is not derivative; his voice is truly original and unique—of the poetry of Dylan Thomas.

Startling imagery, unexpected words yoked together by violence, a certain defiant voice … when I read Odom, I’m reminded of  Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle” and “Sullen Art.”

Some of the poetry in Odom’s recent collection Selene possesses that same defiance, and I think these poems may appeal especially to men of a certain age – either those in their early twenties or those in their late 40s (like me).

Why?  Because these two age groups are connected by their relationship to ideals and the hopes they carry for their lives.

The twentysomethings dismiss the 9-t- 5 treadmill and believe that life holds more for them, that they’ll overcome that treadmill soon enough; the fortysomethings dismiss that same treadmill even as they recognize they’ve been walking on it for the past twenty years.

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O little axe of Bethlehem

baby-jesus-guitarIn the year of our Lord, nineteen hundred and eighty-three, a youth humbly approached his special destination — a little music shop in the heart of his city’s downtown.

Inside, he took $188 in crumpled tens and twenties from his pocket.  Then the kindly shop owner reached above his head and took down a cherry-red imitation Les Paul electric guitar — a Japanese knockoff — from a long row of guitars hanging from the ceiling.

When the transaction was ended and the lad emerged from the shop with his guitar (in a very cheap black case), he whispered under his breath:

O Lord, though I’m pimply, though the lenses of my glasses are very thick, though my hair is oily, though I am girl-less … O Lord, please … let me rock.

This is my story.  Well, OK, it didn’t quite happen like that.

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On reviewing and breaking backs

BANEOne advantage of being the L.A. Times deputy book editor was this: I rarely reviewed a book I didn’t like.

Every week, I sorted through piles and piles of new books for only those things that resonated with me — if something didn’t, I wouldn’t write about it.

But what happened if I was a hundred pages into a book before I realized it was a dog?

What would I do then … drop it?

Are you crazy?  I couldn’t do that — I’d already committed too much time to it!  I had to review it!  So, there were a few options open to me:

  • Damn it with faint praise
  • Forget faint praise and be ruthless — break its back just like Bane
  • Give most of the review space to the subject, not the actual book … and then finish off the piece with a sentence about how the book was”helpful” or “serviceable” (which I guess sounds like the first option).  It sounds like praise, but it isn’t.  Calling a book “helpful” puts it in the same category as a shovel.  Or a Boy Scout.

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