I picked this book up at about 5:20pm last Thursday and had it read by 8:00pm. How's that for speedy?
Glass City by John Grochalski (Low Ghost Press, 2010) poet, former editor of The New Yinzer, dude behind the counter at Caliban Book Shop, my favorite poetry reading host to shout obscenities at, and fellow Pittsburgher Kristofer Collins recently started up a new press venture called Low Ghost, and John Grochalski's Glass City is the second book to be published by the fledgling press. The first was Kris' own The Book of Names and I'm a bit cross with him for not being more all over the web with that information, but Kris is not as big a fan of the internet as I am, so there's that. Glass City is on the long end of what I'll read during my exercise stints coming in at 70 5x6.25 inch pages - very similar to a City Lights book. John is not a fan of the long line, so I was able to read it all aloud in a little over 40 minutes.
I would say that this book is a collection of poems about bardo, the liminal states we all find ourselves in at some point in life. In the particular case of Grochalski's narrator, he is in the in-between place of no longer feeling as though he is within his "youth", yet at the same time not wanting to take the step into what those around him seem to view as "adulthood" - children, office jobs, fancy gadgets, and a decided lack of Kerouac-esque road trips. In response, the narrator builds for himself his own waiting space - one of dingy-seeming bars, multiple bottles of wine, cheap beer, and urban wasteland where he reminisces about his life in Pittsburgh (There were a lot of Pittsburgh-location Easter eggs in this book. I got to say "I know exactly where that is!" more than a handful of times) while living in New York City, but without the desire to return to that former life and not being sure what might be the next step forward.
I have to say that from the place I'm in, personally, I sometimes found it difficult to relate to the narrator's fears. Consciously I understand them and had them myself at one point, but I kept wanting to tell the character "It's okay - I have a kid and I work in a cubicle and I'm more productive and awesome and bohemian than I ever was before I did either of those things - don't worry!"
My favorite poem in the collection, by far, was conversations with henry miller, a piece about a man the narrator sees on the subway and then proceeds to have an imaginary friendship with, complete with anecdotes such as - "rick's girlfriend would be named saffron/it would be annoying at first/but she'd be so down to earth my wife and i/would get over it". I really appreciated the realness of the relationship he builds up in his head with this person he never even speaks to, and the acknowledgement at the end of having absolutely no idea what it is to make a friend any more. These moments of self-knowledge are what shine throughout Glass City.
Thematically and tonally this was definitely a step outside of what I usually read and in many ways was a complete switch from the previous day's reading of Afterpastures by Claire Hero. That's part of what I love about chapbooks/short books and trying to set aside two or three 40-minute periods of time each week for exercising and reading - it has begun to allow me to step outside of the type of work that I am usually drawn to - this is, I believe, the 14th review I've written this year (they keep getting longer and longer. At this rate I'll have to drop the "micro" from the title soon.), and so at least the 14th short book I've read in that time. I've had to seek out chapbooks to read while exercising, and I really like where that's taken me as a reader.
So go check out Glass City and Low Ghost Press!