Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Poetry of Luke Breit

I've been trying to make the case that it is possible to write interesting poetry without using the standard techniques of post-postmodernism, which is driven mainly by non-stop metaphor on the one hand or self-referential language manipulation on the other. I've thought that this alternative, minority approach to writing poems, which I think derives ultimately from West Coast encounters with traditional Chinese and Japanese poetry, has been characteristic of several California poets, whose work for the most part has been consistently ignored.

I've never met Luke Breit, whose first book Celebrating America Within appeared in San Francisco in 1975. I still own a copy of it which I bought at Moe's 35 years ago, and I still like the poems, especially this one:


     Evening comes like this:
     first, it is just
     those little trails of mist
     you probably don't even notice,
     there, just above the river.

     Before long, it moves
     up the beaches, hiding
     in those long cold shadows,
     that you try to stay out of.

     Suddenly, without warning,
     it flashes like lightning
     above the entire village.

     When you come home
      from the store
      with your simple food,
      you don't need to turn on lights
      until you've taken off your coat,
      and there's evening,
      tumbling out of its sleeve.

It's awfully difficult to write poems that are as apparently simple as this one, as one can easily verify by trying it oneself. It's just the right procession of images, the right choice of words ("just like this"), leading to just the right climax.

One nice thing about poetry "just like this" is that it doesn't require much interpretation, so I want to add here a poem from Luke's most recent collection which is entitled Unintended Lessons:

     Let It Come

     At two, a street lamp sprays
     its damp light
     over the old oak tree on the alley.
     The birds have grown quiet
     and even the cars are still.
     When I stop begging for it,
     sleep drifts in
     through an open window.

In his intro to Celebrating America Within, Luke credits Gene Ruggles and James Wright as influences; in spirit anyway the following poem seems to me like something that Rexroth might have been happy to write:

     Fort Ross

     At dusk I stand on this rock
     near people I love.
     At the edge of the world
     the sun disappears
     like a coin placed in a slot.
     The air darkens.
     The ocean is steady
     against the cove.
     Hundreds of feet down the cliff
     the old burned out car
     continues to rust.

One wonders if that rusty car is still there.


Luke Breit is Chair of the Environmental Caucus, California Democratic Party. His latest poetry book, Unintended Lessons, is available at