Thursday, October 23, 2014

Review: Tempo Maps by Daniel Hales

Reading good poems is like being in a knife fight that ends with a kiss.
Daniel Hales’ new book Tempo Maps is an ambitious piece of work, an object worth pursuing. No matter which way you turn it, it delivers.

“… Love is air and electricity every day.
This is just.”

Tempo Maps opens at both ends. Read the poems each way and you hear them talking to each other. Good poetry has to be at least a little risky, should put you on edge. This whole book is pretty damned risky. There’s a CD of Hales reading the poems and music, songs with street noise, rain, birds and instrumental work mixed together. It doesn’t conform to the expectations of a book or music. This is a musician’s geography, the pin on the map is the microphone. It’s the soundtrack to You are Here, and stays with you everywhere.

“metered mail direct deposit preferred method of withdrawal sale
complete printing receipt prickers versus thorns soda versus pop”

So there’s reason to be nervous. 
When I went to a reading, Hales turned on the soundtrack. “Oh shit,” I thought, “this could be bad.”
Then I sat still and listened to what turned out to be the best reading I’d ever been to. The music is lovely and true. The rhythm is sometimes loping, sometimes precise and sharp  – but always trustworthy; the lines are beautiful, funny, both measured and melodic and they feel good on your tongue.
The more you pay attention, the more there is to see. It’s a book you can trust.

“For the last few years, mom’s started each phone call like this: how are you
doing: good?”

It still makes me nervous, scares me in the way good poetry is supposed to scare the hell out of you.

“Most of our brain is for forgetting, the gray poofy parts no one can explain.
Vast erasures half-hilled with the trills of common birds”

This is an unlikely book to get made because it defies category. It speaks to the dedication of a writer and musician with skill, guts and a vision, and it is evidence of the necessity of small presses like ixnay press willing to make original work -- weird, wonderful things -- come to life.

“The ghostly shiver in the guts
     is called butterflies past the ferris wheel”

Some lines I won’t quote because I like them too much. Get your own copy.

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