Paul Violi, Selected Accidents, Pointless Anecdotes.
Brooklyn: Hanging Loose Press, 2002 - Book Review
Literary Review Fall, 2002 by Mark Hillringhouse
In the strange world of Paul Violi, a briefcase containing a poetry manuscript is stolen and all its loose pages of poetry
are laterfound strewn in curbside puddles all over Lower Manhattan. On the way for an egg cream at Dave's Luncheonette
downtown, customers argue about whether a homeless woman who's been sleeping in the garbage bin outside for three
days in the freezing cold is dead or alive. In a story about well diggers and their moronic discussion that begins with the
weather and ends in thoughts on marriage and feminism, one guy's mother arrives to knock sense into him. There's a
story about cheap prostitutes in a back street of Istanbul, and a story about a Chinese gang fight in the Village, and a
story about a cane-wielding, lecherous old man hobbling after a young woman down Beacon Street in Boston,
and there's a story about a group of guys and a girl driving a new Mercedes to Iran, and a story about a
Holland Tunnel toll collector having a seizure while managing to hand over motorists their correct change.
This is Violi's first collection of short prose, and these stories are about his personal encounters with life's curve balls.
The speaker in these stories is always on the move, always managing to escape harm's way at the last minute. He hitches
rides, boards crowded buses and hops sweltering trains, and he is frequently stopped by police or border guards, or he is
dropped off at the edge of town to find a place to bed down for the night with his sleeping bag, either on a park bench or
at an empty soccer stadium. These are the field reports from an itinerant American, a man of letters, a sixties bohemian,
who left the comfort of middle-class suburbia to see the world. The best of these make the reader feel the loneliness of
what it is like to be a stranger among strangers.
These pieces attempt to convey that there is very little sense to what happens day to day. He can take the reader from the
outskirts of Nepal on a speeding train where the speaker gets into a brawl with some fellow passengers over his stolen
wallet, to a car crash on the Palisades Parkway near Bear Mountain, and a father's desperate attempt to revive the
battered body of his dead son. Violi writes about how things go awry, how clumsy and awkward life feels, and how
tragedy occurs in a split second, as in the opening prose piece "At the Deli" where a man crashes through a plate glass
window at a Jersey diner while customers continue eating and the nonplussed waitress calmly wipes up the blood with dispenser
Violi has always managed to capture the oddments of daily life in and out of the great metropolis in his many books of poems.
When I asked Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet James Schuyler what his favorite book of poems was for that year, without hesitating
he said, "Paul Violi's Splurge." That's when I began to admire Violi's work, and this latest book picks up on that early book
of poetry's many wonderful and strange ironic twists. Splurge was a transforming experience for me as a reader, and so is this
collection of short tales that burst with poetic insight into the social fabric of our human universe. One of Violi's great gifts
as a writer is his ability to transform the ordinariness of the everyday into the strangely fascinating.
A poet who is a member of the Saint Mark's Poetry Project (he was one of its first directors for a time), and as someone I consider
part of the "Second Generation" of New York School poets (Violi once worked for the Museum of Modern Art as poetry coordinator),
Violi's close association with that school of poets and painters has led him to incorporate some of that style into his own. Violi is able
to weave the fine human detail of life's numberless interactions by incorporating overheard conversations, and with a painter's eye
for colorful detail, he creates an almost surreal canvas. His interest is in how the outer world penetrates the mysterious inner world
as he searches for whatever solace there is in that cruel, bizarre world to instruct the spirit against the loss of meaning.
There are resonant echoes in this writing from earlier books of poems such as In Baltic Circles, and Harmatan, writing that announced
Violi as a poet worth noting. And like his many poems, these stories derive their substance from his many travels that include
wandering around Africa, Europe, and Asia. If I had to choose just one of these stories, I would choose "Out of the Blue," a tale
about crossing borders (one of Violi's favorite subjects), where the speaker, after the limbo of a crowded bus ride, from India
to "Nowhere" on a dusty road, is taken to an infirmary for failing to pay a bribe to a customs agent. The irony is that the quarantine
appears as a heavenly refuge for the weary narrator. It is spotless and there are clean beds and it is empty. Violi can nail down a
single moment with a few vivid descriptions and he is able to create the tension of a scene and bring the image to focus and give the
reader a sense of the immediacy of a place with colorful details of turbaned bus riders spitting out pistachio shells and a bus driver
who proudly turns around to boast to his passengers, "`A Buick engine! A Buick!' and not look back until at least a few of us applauded."
I applaud these stories and with Violi as your rough guide you will find yourself laughing and crying at the mishaps and
misadventures on your way to some very strange and some very familiar places.
Mark Hillringhouse's poems, interviews, articles, essays, book reviews, and translations have appeared
in the American Poetry Review, American Poetry, The Literary Review, New American Writing,
The New York Times Book Review, and elsewhere. Winner of the Chester H. Jones Poetry Competition
and the recipient of several fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, he teaches creative
writing and is a member of the National Book Critics'Circle.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Fairleigh Dickinson University
COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group