The 2006 release by U.S. press Hoboken On My Mind of Raphael Dervish's Mosquito Coils fell through the proverbial reviewing cracks, it seems. I wasn't aware of this masterpiece (yes, that word is overused, but it still has force) until last month when a chance meeting with a Frank Sinatra karaoke crooner put the title on my lap. The book has nothing to do with the Mafia or waterfront politics, and that's just a small indicator of its off-beat charm and pioneering elan.
The overriding theme and mood of Dervish's third and most ambitious volume of poetry is one of sanguine somnolence, and the poem's opener (put down here in full) serves as an appropriate guide:
the train of a Sunday eve
in the starchy breeze
fools begging for autographs
by the rusted oil cans
brimming with exploded Oxydol
and rat whiskers
O! I lay down
on a corn husk
and snored an aria
counterpointed with the ocean's hush
in a makeshift jamboree
of the night.
This is a curious entry, and the first thing that struck my mind was the nature of the union of "we". "We" simply disappears. Or does it? Is this mysterious companion the reader? Or perhaps a figment of the narrator's erratic imagination? An indistinct homeless person wandering with the enigmatic lyricist? Whatever the answer (or possible answers) we know this much: people come and go, and you don't have to have viewed a statue to realize the breathtaking possibilities on the horizon.
The next several poems abruptly shift gears, and the reader is tossed into a maelstrom, a veritable broth of churning metaphysical goo. "Hard-Ass Wisdom On Two-Fifty A Pipe" outlines the cultural miscues and misunderstandings involved when a party of three occasional acquaintances get together to celebrate the posthumous release of a K-Tel Rat Pack double DVD, only to discover that pipe tobacco and rabid anti-smokers don't parlay their desire for compromise into a happy Frankie sing-a-long. Important moral and social questions emerge, here, and in the remainder of this powerfully felt and erudite book: does our desire for ingesting chemicals outweigh the importance of campy proximate clubbiness? Do we have the right to be selfish when it endangers others' joy? Is there such an idea as "too much of a good thing"? Dervish doesn't condescend by leading the reader by the nose into a pre-fab confessional, but lets the questions hang like air from residual belches after the guilty one has scarfed the double anchovies pizza with garlic, washed down by a bean sundae.
There are too many other highlights here to properly address without taking away the surprise of what will surely be Dervish's turning point in a long but sporadic career spanning the beginning of MTV through to nerdy Tony Soprano groupies sporting bolo ties.
Buy it. Read it. Live it.