Posts Tagged ‘J W Bonner’

Asheville Poetry Review of Rodeo for the Sheepish

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

asheville_poetry_ellyn_review_hen_house_studiosEllyn Maybe. Rodeo for the Sheepish. Hen House Studios, 2010. $15. By J. W. Bonner

Rodeo for the Sheepish takes this listener back to the heady delights of the caffeinated conversations of grad school, referencing midnight movies and sharing passages from dog-eared paperbacks. The woman declaiming these poems with a defiant and radiant lilt takes all of life’s insults and disappointments and transforms them into songs which turn life on its head, creating a world that allows for possibilities belied by facts.

The music on the cd has a lite hip hop, r&b, jazzy beat. The background singers and music (keyboards, percussion, saxophone, trombone) weave in and around Maybe’s spoken words/lyrics. The voice and chorus and music sound fully integrated. Maybe’s lyrics are filled with longings for connections: with art, books, movies, people. Sexual yearning lies underneath many of the pieces, but above the body and sexual persona exists the artistic persona. One song/poem, “Being an Artist,” has one of the most emphatic rhythmic percussive breaks in any of the songs, something along the lines of African drumming, and the lines near the end of the poem suggest that the artist is inhabited by the Muse, her soul thieved as in Invasion of the Body Snatchers: “Being an artist / is an active verb / a noun / a consonant / an adjective in a world full of chaotic life sentences.” The pun of the last line makes clear that only the artist is truly free in this world; the rest are incarcerated in the routines of mass life.

Wry, emotional honesty underlies these poems. Whether spoofing with female sexual identity as defined by women (as opposed to definitions imposed by society) or playing with the dualities of mind and body, Maybe does not hold back on truths. One song acknowledges that “it’s not easy being a woman who knows the difference between / Gene Kelly and Gene Krupa. Miles Davis and Miles Traveled. / I know how men make women wear armor of all kinds.” Here’s the cat-call from the city street, a man yelling (still) at the 40-year-old, “Hey Mars Girl, get off the Earth.” There’s humor in the phrase, but there’s a sting in the phrasing.

Ellyn Maybe gives any number of shout-outs to influences and pleasures. She’s a fan of the Go-Go’s, Peggy Lee, the Supremes, B-52s, Henry Miller, Kubrick, Truffaut, Leonard Cohen, and others. How many times does one find Truffaut rhymed with 400 Blows? Leonard Cohen, in fact, is mentioned in two of the poem/songs. One poem is titled “Sylvia Plath”; another, “Picasso.” These references populate each song, serving as check points for the audience—a hipster gauge. Music, film, books evoke personal identity, as when Annie Ernaux writes in Simple Passion, “the cultural standards governing emotion which have influenced me since childhood (Gone with the Wind, Phedre or the songs of Edith Piaf) are just as decisive as the Oedipus complex.

“ Music’s got the power, in Maybe’s pantheon, and reverting to the origins of poem and music potentially doubles the poetic weight with the listener. (Others are pushing into these waters: Jeffery Beam and Asheville Poetry Review’s own Keith Flynn, among many.) Maybe corrals those made sheepish by the masses of society, lassoes the insults, and rides the herd, unable to be bucked by life, “as if she had a fly paper ass.”

J. W. Bonner reviews regularly for Asheville Poetry Review. He is working on a manuscript about the Sixties, examining more specifically the #1 AM radio hits of 1969. He teaches in the Humanities Department at Asheville School.