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Archive for the ‘Mark C. Durfee’ Category

I’m excited to have a brand new book of   poetry in my hands–THE LINE BETWEEN by Mark C. Durfee, aka The Walking Man.      Mark is my friend.  I’m proud to tell you that, because he is also a poet with a voice that is strong and honest.  Mark’s work comes from a place deep inside the bones.  Always, it is real.

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The Line Between is the second book in Mark Durfee’s trilogy from Motor City Burning Press.  I’m sure many people remember Stink, but on the off chance that you missed it, be sure to check it out, too.  You can read my take on Stink HERE.

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Cover Photo By Justin Harris

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The Line Between is not as dark as Stink, but it is equally as powerful.  While Stink focuses on life in Detroit, The Line Between gives us the human condition–not  necessarily from a specific location, but from the human heart.

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The book has a haunting and beautiful cover by Justin Harris, who is an amazing photographer of abandoned spaces.  The cover is a great complement to Durfee’s poetry, which rises up like an echo of life.

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As Mark Durfee describes on the first page of his book, the line between is that line we all walk from birth to death.  Sometimes the line is a zig zag.  Sometimes, it curves and takes us to places we never dreamed we’d be.  The way we act and the people we touch while we’re on the line is what matters.

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The book is divided into sections, which refer to different stages or “lines,” and logically begins with children.  In the first section, It Might Have Been A Wonderful Life is a small, powerful poem.  It reminds me of the horror in Stink, in that a mother places her baby in a microwave because she

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“…mistook you for the bottle

she was going to feed you,

to shut you up with

so she could go

pass out again.”

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Yet in the same section, we see the beauty of childhood, as in the piece, Small Happiness, where the narrator watches children who are holding hands and spinning:

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“They had just discovered

the loveliness

of being wondrously dizzy.”

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A poignant section of the book deals with the “Lines of Age.”  It contains the title poem, which was inspired by the author’s grandmother and is a gentle portrait of a family matriarch as she reaches the end of her life:

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“Comforted by her cup of tea

half gone, cold now, she dreams.

She has her chair turned towards the sun,

letting it warm her as she dozes,

snoring softly, occasionally smiles,

in her early afternoon sleep.”

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As a poet, I enjoy Mark Durfee’s portraits of people.  I also appreciate his surprising twists of language and phrases.  Eyes In The Back Of My Head contains one such twist.  Instead of just walking an edge, the narrator walks along the knife’s edge, as really, we all do:

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“I walk the knife’s edge,

the honed side, and am still amazed

that my feet are not cut to ribbons

with each step.”

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There’s no way to truly do the book justice here, because Mark Durfee’s work should be read out loud.  In I’ll Have Mine With Chemical Sprinkles, Durfee describes our modern society’s obsession with feel good consumerism and takes us on a wild ride of sound with lines like:

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“Start it with love for the Valium vellum

which allows not for the touching of the feelings

but the excretion of them so we’ll forget

what it was that was wrong that needed our dealing.

Piss on non-prescription pad paper.

Wipe yourself with Prozac then no emotions matter.”

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I would love to hear that poem read out loud!

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The Line Between is an excellent addition to your poetry collection.  My copy is becoming dotted with small smudges and is getting creased where I have turned the pages so many times.  I accidentally left a dog ear on page 57 when I was reading the poem to a friend.  It smells a little like my friend’s cigar.

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Those small marks and scents are the highest compliment I can give any book.  It doesn’t just sit on the shelf.

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For information on ordering The Line Between, click HERE.

The cost for The Line Between by itself is $10.00.

As a special, Stink and The Line Between can be ordered together for $18.00 total.  It’s well worth the low price.

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Stink What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the word Detroit?  Like many Americans, the first thing I think of lately is the troubled auto industry.  I think of high unemployment numbers.  Then I think of the history of Detroit, Michigan.  As someone who used to live close enough to be a day tripping tourist, I also remember friends from Detroit who gave ominous warnings about which neighborhoods outsiders like me should avoid.

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Now Mark Durfee takes me down those inner city streets with his new book, Stink: Poetry and Prose of Detroit.  He shows me his world in the way that only a native can.  It is a powerful book that portrays the humanity behind the headlines—the unemployed, the never employed, the forgotten kids, the senseless murders.  Stink is the fallout and frustration of the decline of what was once one of our greatest American cities.

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Stink is not supposed to be enjoyable reading.  Don’t look for vignettes about swans or pretty yellow butterflies in this one.  Stink intends to educate the adult reader.  And it does.

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One of the things about Mark Durfee’s writing that strikes me is his honesty.  The poems and prose in Stink do not dance around the edges of issues.  They slosh through the middle of the big, oily puddle.  Subjects like racism, drugs, and murder are portrayed with unblinking eyes.

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But Stink is not “Hollywood” blood and guts splashed across walls.  It is real.  I find it to be much more powerful, because the descriptions are not overdone.  It is told in a matter-of-fact voice, which for me, makes the impact even stronger.

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The beginning section of the book deals with the “attitude” of the city.  The first piece, 911 Is For Emergencies Only, begins in full force.  With a nonchalant voice, the narrator describes a dead body he found while walking his dog.  After seeing the body had been dead for a while, the narrator “finished walking the dog because she hadn’t shit yet.”  In this world, a dead body is not an emergency anymore.

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Another piece in this section of the book haunts me.  Better To Have Your Shit With You Than Have To Go Home And Get It begins on a warm summer day.  The narrator is relaxing on his porch and can see inside his neighbor’s house.  Once again, a young boy is being beaten by his father.  The narrator describes the scene:

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“It became near impossible when, as has happened many times before, I saw

the back of the ten year old hit the storm door of the house across from me.  I

could see the new dent and just the hand and lower arm of his old man

reaching to drag him back into the darkness of the house.  I knew the old

man, unemployed for about six months, was full of cheap whiskey and piss.”

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The narrator can’t stand watching the scene anymore, so he walks into the neighbor’s house with a gun and opens fire.  He “looks at the kid, saw he’d most likely live.”  Then he leaves with the feeling that at least he got to “see one end right.”  Perhaps the act is literal.  Perhaps it is only in the narrator’s head.  Regardless, it is chilling.

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I had nightmares about this scene, but it made me think deeply.  Yes, I have felt that same anger when I see children who have been abused.  No, I’m not condoning murder.  The narrator’s act was pure evil and wrong.  But who among us hasn’t raged at the perpetrators of abuse and a system that does nothing to help the victims?

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I also think about about our responsibility as human beings.  The narrator didn’t want to watch the beating or hear the boys’ cries anymore.  It was ruining his pleasant afternoon.  He had seen the system fail the boy many times before.  If we turn our heads away from the beating, aren’t we just as guilty as the man who beats the child?  Maybe not literally.  But we are guilty nonetheless.

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In It Doesn’t Always Take A Blood Trail, the “first rooster crowing” is the sound of gunshots at 3:54 in the morning.  The narrator waits for the sound of police sirens.  The police never come.  The narrator concludes:

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“The body will be wherever it fell,

it’s not in any hurry anymore to get

a little drug money

it will never be able to spend.

It doesn’t matter anymore

if the dead meat’s not found early,

the mystery of where life ended

will be solved soon enough

by following the smell.”

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Stink also tackles racism head on.  The poem, 2905 Garland: Ossian Sweet Bought More Than A House, tells the true story of a black doctor who moved his family to a white Detroit neighborhood in 1925.  A white mob, angry that a black family was living in “their” neighborhood, gathered at the Sweet house.  In an attempt to protect his home and family from mob violence, Ossian Sweet and some of his friends armed themselves.  In the mob violence that follows, a white man is shot and dies.  Two of the most striking stanzas in the poem read like a call and response:

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“Police man true,

police man blue,

where in hell are you?”

The mob heard Ossian cry.

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Right here, Dr. Ossian Sweet,

protecting the other houses on

Garland Street.”

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The Sweets and their friends were tried for murder.  Sweet was acquitted, but the horror of the event was far from over.

There is much more to the story, and it is one that everyone should know.   If you’ve never heard of Ossian Sweet, please look it up.  Slavery eventually turned into the Jim Crow South.  Unjust laws were eventually changed.  Attitudes are much harder to change.  And the attitudes are not confined to only one region or country.

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Racial tension remains in modern day Detroit, as it does in many places.  In I Never Knew I Was White, the narrator speaks of walking the streets of Harlem or Watts without incident.  But in his own neighborhood in Detroit, he is told that a white man doesn’t belong.  He questions the fact that racism is often portrayed as a white only problem:

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“What of the white who lives with a majority minority?

Is he judged on the color of his skin,

rather than the soul within?”

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A young black man in the same neighborhood might tell a different story.  But if we’re honest, many people have heard that question before.  The narrator makes a good point.  People of all colors are often judged by skin color or history, instead of as individuals.

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The questions posed by the poet are respectful.  In my opinion, the honesty of Stink is civil discourse through which change can occur.  If we try to “pretty up” or hide problems, the problems will not go away.

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In the middle of all the questions, the reader will find much lyrical writing in Stink.  The language is often beautiful, even though the subject is tough.  One example can be found in the poem, Brother:

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The chariot of flame

burned the castle stones,

leaving all within

naked,

unprotected

with only the illusion of walls left to save us.

Walls that could never have kept

the flame vultures of want out anyway.

There never was enough water

to quench a flame of desire,

nor stop a wing made of fly ash.”

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There is hope in Stink, though it sparkles in bits of broken glass.  In the final section of the book, the poem, I Hope I live Long Enough, speaks of the desire to see that better day:

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“I was told by a young black woman a week ago

it will not be my generation to bridge the chasm

our grandfathers had dug but hers would do the job;

and make it right, make this living together flow

man I hope I get to live long enough

to throw at least a little fill into that hole.”

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Stink is a book that needs to be read several times, not because it’s hard to understand, but because the subject matter should be absorbed.  It should be discussed.  Everyone should care, because these are our fellow human beings.  One sentence that kept going through my mind as I read was It doesn’t have to be like this.  I think that is one of the author’s intentions.

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Yes, I recommend this book to all adult readers, even to people who want to put their heads in the sand and not hear the truth.  Maybe those are the people who really need Stink the most.

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You can order Stink by emailing Mark Durfee at detstink@gmail.com.  The price including the postage to anywhere is $9 (US).  No checks please, but money orders are OK.  Mark handles all the book shipping himself and does not do pay pal to keep the cost reasonable in the times we all live in.

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You can find more of Mark Durfee’s poetry and prose at his site, The Walking Man.  And be sure to check out Motor City Burning Press.   It is obvious that Mark Durfee deeply loves his city and its people.  Now when I think of Detroit, I also think of him.

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