Review by Todd Moore
No Way Out But In, Don Winter, 2008, 25p. Working Stiff Press, P.O. Box 1274, Niles, Michigan 49120, $10, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some books appear like comets. They get the newspaper spread, the National Public Radio talk show buzz. It's red carpet all the way, the Billy Collins treatment on Garrison Keillor, the Barnes and Noble book signings. Some books make less auspicious appearances, like a grenade with the pin pulled rolling out on the sidewalk or a Molotov cocktail with the fuse lit, all ready to throw. These are the kinds of books I like because they are all about content and have no hint of glitz or hype whatsoever.
Don Winter's No Way Out But In is this kind of book. Published by Working Stiff Press and selling for ten bucks, this book is a steal. This book contains some of the best poetry I've seen in a while. These poems remind me of the best work of Phillip Levine. And, here's another guess. Maybe Winter knows the work of Raymond Carver as well.
One of the blurbs on the back of No Way Out mentions Hemingway and Bukowski, and while these writers are almost everyone's influences, I think Winter's poetry has an originality and power that is uniquely his own. As Gary Goude states in his masterly introduction, Don Winter is a working class poet, whose poetry comes out of the Midwest rust belt. Detroit, working class bars and diners, factories, the street wise, and the street poor. Some of these poems have layers of angst so thick you need a broken bottle to cut into and then through them.
2 a.m. The moon risesWinter's poetry takes place in a visceral world where French fries and broken glass are frozen to the pavement, where "faces float/ like torn pages/ across the diner windows." The best thing about Don Winter's poetry is that there is no whining. Instead what you find is a kind of tough guy stoicism. The poet narrator is going through a bad divorce. His world is sliding sideways away from him but somehow he manages to keep going, even though that going is taking him nowhere:
above Birmingham Steel.
At 20th and Tuscaloosa
men keep warm by a fire
made from fence posts
and garage doors....
Two hundred for the night, two bonesThere are resonances in Winter's poetry which echo and remind me of something out of Raymond Chandler's Red Wind, Charles Bukowski's Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame, Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, or maybe something out of one of my books. Maybe Point Blank or Burn Like a Shadow. In my opinion, Don Winter's poetry has all the right stuff. It's hard, it's edgy, it makes no excuses, and it knows where it lives. The next best thing to breaking out of a dead end life is to live in it with enormous honesty and intensity.
from her dealer later, we jumped
into a Checker cab.
Back in my room,
the dope dropped my head
like a tulip.
She cleaned me out.
(from "Lonesome Town")
The note at the end of "Late Shift Waitress at Wanda's Grill" reads "this found poem cost me blood." What Winter seems to have learned is that all poems cost you blood. Blood mixed with nightmare chills and fever dreams.
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