Micheline, man

Pub date August 13, 2008
SectionArts & CultureSectionLiterature

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So much of Jack Micheline’s work is great that it almost feels like a lie to speak of it. He remains a problematic, adorable, and — to the very end — indefinable artist. This is not loose praise.

In an introduction to the new Micheline collection One of a Kind (Ugly Duckling Press, 155 pages, $15), editor Julien Poirier asks, "Why does literature consider Jack Micheline a joke if it considers him at all? When he puts everyone in the dark!" It isn’t conspiracy speech to claim there are no valid or easy answers to this question. As Micheline said: "Fuck fame sweetheart. It is so fleeting. This stupid thing called Fame. (power, money)." He was well aware that "it is a sad affair what Modern America does to its poets. Or what happens to poets in 20th-century America." He lived his art and life against such destructive forces.

Micheline died in 1998, riding a BART train to the end of the line. He loved trains, racetracks, cities, poets, musicians, artists, and women. He was at ease with the roiling mass of humanity. His friends ranged from Charles Bukowski and Charles Mingus to street hustlers and bookstore proprietors. Late in life he became a prolific painter, and One of a Kind includes several reproductions of black-and-white paintings and drawings alongside a healthy selection of previously uncollected (for the most part) prose and poetry. Micheline’s work is phallus-centered and action-oriented, but it can also allow gender to be an open question. Ultimately, one of his primary concerns is the inherent and often unnoticed beauty found in subtle gestures.

Micheline dug speech. The nonstop rapport of an active city street lifted him from within:

I walked in the streets of night

so no one could see my face

and heard beautiful sounds

If you don’t know Micheline’s work, read One of a Kind. (If you do, read it too.) Micheline is an essential tick at the center of humanity. His poems don’t solve problems, but they celebrate and provide attentive insight into what it means to truly live. Hearing them will do you good. Poirier’s introduction, taking the form of a personal letter addressed to Micheline, is a treasure in itself. The intuitive care he’s given to Micheline’s poetry is clear. As an editor and fellow poet, he possesses the wonder necessary to assemble this book, yet true to his hope, the reward belongs to Micheline. This is the book Jack Micheline was working on for all those years.