I bought this book when it first came out because I know the poet (more about that in a minute), but I put it on my stack of books I’ll read and read instead the top book on that stack (I forget what book that was now). At the end of spring semester I collected things in my office to bring home for summer reading and whatever. Flashcuts came home with that stack but went on the read-it-this-summer stack. Classes got underway this week and I prepared to move the remnants of the summer stack from home to office and picked up Flashcuts again. I read a poem. I read another poem. I read every poem in the book. And I’m reading every poem again before I go to bed. I started out marking poems I like with brightly colored tabs but the top of the book began to look like crazy hair on a troll doll so I stopped. This is the best poetry I’ve read in a long time. I teach poetry and I read marvelous poetry alot, so let me repeat – this is the best I’ve read in a long long time.
Okay, full disclosure. Charlie Brice – the Charles W. on the cover and I don’ know if people call him Charlie now – and I were in different high schools in Cheyenne Wyoming in the mid sixties. He was in the Catholic one; I was in one of the secular two – the one that had no black people in it. More relevantly, we played in rival local bands. People would call them ‘garage bands’ now, but we didn’t see anything garage about what we were doing, though the one I was in practiced in a garage and (I presume) the SPIRITS (I think their banner read ‘THEM SPIRITS’) did too. My band mates and I made a competing banner that read ‘THEM JAGUARS,’ but that’s water long under the bridge.
Charlie played drums. I played guitar. Setting Up Soul, (page 37) describes Charlie’s perspective on setting up his drums in that era. I was probably in the audience that night – we surveilled the rival bands. I remember my friend (though I don’t remember which friend now) saying, “his rim shots sound like police breaking down the door,” and I thought how the hell does he know what that sounds like and, a minute later, yes, just like that. Police breaking down the door.
A few years later Charlie and I played in a band together. We’d rented a derelict bowling alley in downtown Cheyenne with a view to running a dance hall and making buckets of money. We played off-nights and openings and brought in BIG NAMES (i.e. from Colorado and Nebraska) to headline. We lost our shirts but kept our pants. In the heady flurry of entrepreneurial creativity, we rented a portable public address system from a former guitar teacher of mine (a country-western guy, very gauche), which we strapped to the top of my Ford van and paraded through the many parking lots of the Frontier Days Carnival promoting our bowling-alley-turned-night-club. Well promoted, but poorly attended. Unfortunately, the speakers slid off the roof of the Ford in an exuberant corner turn, and hit the Wyoming pavement, so they were damaged a bit. Also unfortunately, we kept them past the return date and had no idea what the rent might be after that. (Who read the contract? Who has the contract?”) For some reasons I no longer remember, Charlie and I were the ones elected to return the goods. I knew where the owner lived (took guitar lessons there years before), and Charlie was the getaway driver; I don’t remember why. What I remember (I think) is he drew a cigarette from the visor of his classic Toyota Land Cruiser and explained, “so I can think.”
Back to his poetry. Flashcuts out of Chaos is bristling with decades of wit and wisdom stretched tight over a lifetime of life. Well, most of a lifetime; we have a few years left. Some of the poems brought me to tears; most brought a sigh or bit lip (a bit of bit lip). This is wonderful, sensitive, stuff-of-life poetry. This is the poetry that makes you want to read poetry. If you buy one poetry book this year, buy this one. Okay, I’m done writing about it and eager to read again, so I’ll end this little review, but let me re-emphasize. Charlie Brice’s poetry is the police breaking down the door. Open the door.