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Poetry > Lit Up

Drunk drunk drunk

A poetic memoir haunts the gardens and the graves

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Published 4/22/2009

Shit I'm shaking as I write this.
DTs are a motherfucker.
My hands are balled in tight fists.
It's time for war.
I'm standing. Damn it. I'm standing.
Wish me luck.

The typed, signed letter that accompanied this book sent in by its author — whose envelope was sloppily hand-addressed — sported a misspelled word or two and a subtext of gloom, and you could tell right off that this guy's fightin' the odds. There was no contact e-mail address, but a phone number that, when called, had an outgoing message that said nothing of a guy named John A. Common. Instead, it was girl-woman's voice saying that she wasn't home.

Common wrote in that note that he couldn't afford an ad in Metro Times to help with book publicity because he'd been cut from his factory job and, would we consider reviewing his book? He said his publisher has a horrible rep and can't get his books into stores, but that it's available through the publisher's website or it can only be checked out at the Taylor Public Library. The Taylor Public Library? Now that's badass. (Although the book wasn't available when we called the other day.)

Sometimes in the worst places.
You meet the best people.

Turns out that this Common guy is a badass. Inside these short narrative poems you understand quickly that he's a fuck-up — at first you get the idea he's your basic self-hating drunk and a bipolar time bomb who was born into poverty. But this guy's got heart; he'll turn a phrase that'll simultaneously get you chuckling and hurting — particularly if you've struggled with booze and dead-end gigs and suicide, or have a fascination for those who have. More, he details well, and with tattered composure, the shivery want of alcohol — rather, that Buddha-killing need — and how, when you are that gone you will, without doubt, pull those who care about you down the toilet with you.

Common can be an asshole who's self-aware enough to know he needs to improve himself (to at least keep his wife), but there's a sensitivity and insight that transcends subject and ugly circumstance and makes you want to know more about him, his weird little life — which, ultimately, is no weirder than yours or mine, all things considered. But like any boozer's world, his is at once hilarious and pitiable.

He's inside a contentious marriage with a good woman whom he adores but constantly disappoints. He lives with her and his brother in that part of Taylor that feels desolate and is covered with trashed house rentals and workaday despair. It's that workaday despair Common can document so very well.

This July they are shutting down my plant.
Game over man.
Common could also be a Bukowski fan.

OK, literary finger-pistols to old Buk are (normally) reasons to toss any such book into the nearest trashcan, because the writer is invariably one who misses the soul, the heart, the wit and instead focuses on some romanticized barstool trip, a jerk-off whose "life in the margins" usually lasts between his final college days and his first real job. Oh, yawn.

But not this guy. Here's one instance where a Buk similarity doesn't stink, where you actually give a shit about the author, even though he's a seemingly irredeemable drunk who might pick a fight, a guy who'll mask emotional responses with chest-hair-sprouting machismo; in fact, you don't learn so much about the world we live in or the one that gave rise to Common except that it's mostly ugly and always poor. But you do learn about Common the person, a boozer gifted enough to detail (and mock) the metaphorical liver rot and stumble-down sickness of daily life around him. (Though he sometimes pushes it, maybe for effect, or maybe because it's easy to underestimate the wretched prisons erected in the minds of certain alcoholics, and there's need for compensation.)

How Bukowski showed us the brassy bowels of East Hollywood and the insides of bars on Third Street, Common gives us glimpses into the bowels of work-shift Taylor, the hopelessness of a shit-job and the agony of repetition medicated by booze — how the drinking-fighting-fucking-passing-out routine's a normal one that repeats into lost horizons.

Taylor is my home.
Some call it Taylortucky.
A long time ago a lot of Kentucky folks moved here.
Not talking shit.
My Family's from Alabama.

Beyond the writer's malaise of failed dreams, inner rage and outward anger, there's real melancholy — most of which is born of a relationship with his mother, whom he somewhat idolized, who booted him out at a young age, who he later took care of, and who died. One poem's a letter written to her after her death promising that his life with wife "Annie" will work out, that he'll drink less, and he'll help with her poker game and tell her that he loves her every day. He wonders if she's "just teaching him a lesson again" because she's gone. If so, he "gets it" now.

I've been broke my whole life.
But not this broke.
It sucks to have to worry about my wife too.
Her being hungry is too much
to bear.

Common's deceptively simple verse is coarse and commanding. It takes us inside a busted soul throttled by addiction, derailed by regret and searching for redemption, or one denying that search.

And then, within this collection, Common learns some grace, learns how empathy can be measured and offered up and how it can be more rewarding than the alternative; it's as if he has defied, almost by accident, his upbringing and environment to see something greater, bigger and more profound.

What's more, it's poetry that isn't without a couple typos, and why would it be any other way? And references to Everclear's underrated addict lyricist make sense.

Common's jaundiced and literate take on a life that vacillates between self-pity and generosity rises above simple drunken yarns of an unemployed factory rat. Here's a writer from Taylor deserving wide attention.


John A. Common with read from, and sign copies of, Self-Pity Interrupted by Tragedy at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 17, at Borders in Southland Mall (23000 Eureka Rd., Taylor; 734-374-5345).

You can find Common's book at PublishAmerica.com, the above Borders or at Amazon.com.

Brian Smith is Metro Times managing editor. Send comments to bsmith@metrotimes.com.

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