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RD Armstrong

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Member Since: Before 2003

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Category: 

Poetry

Publisher:  Lummox Press ISBN-10:  1929878990 Type: 
Pages: 

114

Copyright:  June 15, 2008 ISBN-13:  9781929878994
Non-Fiction

The Lummox Press

This book encompasses three long poems about road trips I took in 1999, 2000, & 2001. They were originally published in three separate books.

On/Off the Beaten Path contains the title poem, plus A Journey up the Coast and RoadKill (the epic long poem published in 2002). Each poem describes the sights and sounds of three trips made between 1999 and 2001.
Each trip was taken to meet poets and see the sights - in 1999 it was to meet A. D. Winans of San Francisco; in 2000 it was to meet Todd Moore of Albuquerque; and in 2001 it was to meet Leonard J. Cirino of Springfield, Oregon.
Most of the trips were uneventful (as uneventful as any adventure can be), but the last one happened to be eclipsed by the events of 9-11, which occurred in the middle of the trip. This put a radically different perspective on the rest of the trip.
Excerpt
On/Off, On/ Off, On/Off...The pattern repeats itself until the pattern becomes rote, until the pattern becomes a statement of fact: irrefutable and undeniable. I had hoped that this poem would shed some light on my parallel (and perilous) journey through the scarred mindscapes of New Mexico. I say parallel since I was reliving a similar trip taken some 17 years earlier, yet in my mind’s eye there was no distinction between the two eras, though, in reality I am two distinct individuals...or so I thought.

The significance of that time becomes apparent when I tell you it was the start of the last year of an awful time in my life, a time when I lost touch with just about everything of value to me, including my life.

Imagine my mixed feelings when I realized that I was glimpsing the shadows of that past on this rather innocent trip to NM. A chance to make a final and lasting peace with the old demons of my squandered youth. To bury the hatchet and let go of my shame as one might release a balloon...bye bye, baby. But the shadow remains just that, a phantom. This past is buried deep, the wound has healed over, the scars, just barely visible to the discerning eye (I?). It will take another pilgrimage to NM to shake loose that cycle of on /off. Possibly more.

So it begins...


Professional Reviews

Review of RoadKill by Joyce Metzger
RD Armstrong long ago established himself as a poet, publisher and editor within the small poetry press world. Armstrong's, The Lummox Journal, a monthly magazine, has explored the creative process in the arts since 1996. His ever popular, Little Red Book series, has showcased and illuminated numerous poetic "star voices" in the small poetic
press.

RD (Raindog) spent most of his life in and around Los Angeles, knows the area well, the culture, the temper and temperament of the West Coast. He currently lives and works in Long Beach. An intrepid wanderer when the urge itches his bones, Raindog Armstrong calls himself a "Road" scholar, having "gone to places that few ever dream of (unless you count nightmares).

My thoughts concur with Todd Moore's words about the leisurely construct of Armstrong's previous book entitled, A Journey Up The Coast, in the foreword of Road Kill. Road Kill has a much different tempo, as if the poet was driven by an inner frantic urgency. This happens. Intuition can play a vital role in our lives. If we listen to that inner voice, dangers can be side-stepped, and long sought goals, might well be discovered.

Long epic poems are difficult as time, events, personas and the poem take on a life determination. Watching the white line on a 3247 mile journey allows the mind to wander, muse, enthuse, then grow lethargic. This metamorphoses into a jumping off point for driver, in reaction to his surroundings. Something pushed RD Armstrong forward as he wandered along the road, into towns, and while visiting with friends and fellow poets.

The first portion of Road Kill reads like a travelogue. We view the countryside and life via RD Armstrong's eyes and his interpretation of what he saw. "...old two/Lane 101 twists and turns along the/Western bank of Puget Sound on a/typical Washington morning globs of/fog hang wet and low fishermen are/merely silhouettes on mirrors no breath/of wind except for the motorhomes that whip by..." "Outside Eureka where you drive slow enough to/see the trees as individuals where they will/ live out their days undisturbed by the cult of/The Saw not so farther north in lumber country/not tree country where trees are left by the roadside/but thinned to non-existence within yards here/ The Logger reigns..."

Armstrong reveals deeper inner emotions. We become privy to an inner sanctum perhaps not normally used in his every day life. RD mentions friends, and fellow poets by name, as if, by visiting and talking with them, they must be included as an intimate portion of his ongoing saga. The pace remains hurried. He doesn't linger long in any one place, and one wonders what RD is "really" seeking. What wasp impulse stings the mind to drive a man forward, out on the road, for days at a time, without a companion to talk to, or to share the enjoyable moments.

Suddenly, the tempo changes into shocked disbelief. It's as if everything, and everyone, has been sucked into a vortex and all are afraid to think, or suck a breath. 9-11 strikes, the Twin Towers are destroyed, thousands of lives are lost! Chaos erupts across the nation, around the world. And RD, away from his normal surroundings dangles by
his finger tips, trying to touch toe tips to the ground, while every known thing shakes, trembles and threatens to fall from the sky.

RD admits that expectations do fall far short at times. "I feel oddly estranged from these people/not just because of the attacks but mostly/because time has worked its magic on us/whittling us down shadows of the past/this becomes a harbinger as most of my/ old acquaintances remain out of sync the/past and present not melding together with/any amount of ease not made easier by the/brevity of my visit there just isn't enough/time to redefine our commonality..."

"...funny/I used to love to drive long hours on the road/meant nothing to me to be driving six eight/ten hours now I'd rather be walking around/ or sitting in some room finding the common ground..." Everything now seems out of focus to Armstrong; the urgency, forceful detail, creative heat, token glow and relentless flame of mixed sensations and
pleasurable animation have evaporated... He wants to get home, to recapture some sense of security, but senses this will never really be, for a long, long time.

A special niche syndrome of despair and attrition melds with the absolute sense of degradation...the ultimate double-cross, the rape of all expectation. His earlier aspirations give way, as they must, to an inner monologue of high seriousness and "truth." RD ponders what has happened, how people are reacting, the ramifications that have begun and will escalate over time. Reality has been shredded, and a terminal identity crisis looms, since the days have blurred into madness.

"I'm getting a little loopy from being/On the road a little too long sleeping/On floors sofas the occasional bed/in so many foreign houses so many/strangers who seem like friends/so many friends who have become/strangers...I could be home/tonight..." "A bird is laughing like a hyena/The sea begins to chortle as a set/rolls in from Japan it is all so/soothing that I almost slip into/ a trance..."

Winding down, in the home-stretch, "Home at last I can almost taste the/air around the harbor that rancid blend/of diesel Sulfur fish and crude oil/all these images are punched into my/head and ratcheted down tightly around my soul..."

RD Armstrong, a lone wandering poet, starting as a casual observer and hopeful chronicler of a continuous narrative of detailed historical facts concerning a road trip and conversations with peers, finds his trip of a lifetime, has indeed, taken on a life of it's own. He is not the same person who began this 3247 mile odyssey...for all the tragedy,
he has also been transformed, into a better man.

Road Kill is an excellent introspective journey of a heart and mind.

Copyright March 31, 2003 Joyce Metzger


Review by John Bennett
It's a good read, very much in the tradition of On the Road.

But whereas most post-Beat Beat-influenced literature boils down to dreary, anachronistic imitation, there's a freshness, a snap and an innocence to Roadkill. The heart of a way of living which has been pretty much stabbed to death since those hyacinth days of the Fifties and Sixties is nicely resuscitated in your long poem, making it (among other things) an affirmation in the wake of 9-11, instead of a reaction.

John Bennett


A review of On/Off The Beaten Path by John Macker
I don't really understand all these disconcerting labels of the poet-self, as in outlaw poet, blues poet, voodoo poet, shaman poet, anarchist-dreamer poet, street-poet, lesbian poet; I think anyone who is determined to stay after it, to transfuse all of the self into it, who holds language above all else, is not connected with the university & is currently in or out of jail is probably an outlaw of sorts. I guess considering oneself an “outlaw of the spirit" is a first step to recognition of a rebel lineage but its also a cliché - just check out Ed Dorn or Richard Hugo: both connected to famous universities but reading Hugo's sullen, anti-social bluesy long lines about how deep into the pain of love & life we really go, you think, this beautiful fucker has done time someplace...of course, he's done it in his head
& heart & liver & its been mostly hard time. And that time transmutes the language of his soul into a magic can be read over and over, for the next thousand years.

Yes, there is the shamanic in such a sacrifice, such a generosity. It shines (& is enshrined) in the language & rituals of Dorn, Baraka, Hugo, Kaufman, Micheline, Corso, Di Prima, Scibella, Hirschman, Meltzer etc. Tony Moffeit called Micheline Whitman .. Micheline was a scat-singer, street poet, minstrel, street-caller/conjurer, chanter, a fine painter, and generous spirit, but he wasn't Whitman. Yes, his work lacked a kind of polish & complexity on the page because his language was made for his voice, his song, his breathline, full of a jazz immediacy made to echo off the brick and glass of cities. The few times I ran into him in America, he was most gracious; his singing/reading seemed
sculpted for the out-of-doors; his oratory could run free riff circles around the most "polished" of evangelists or politicians. He "aspired to the prophetic in terms of the Hebraic tradition evoking divine inspiration", as William Everson once said. I think it can apply to Micheline, too. His was a literature of the street-corner; sidewalk theatre. His muse existed in the public parks, in the flow of humanity, in the bars and cafes.

If we can evoke the shamanic through ritual (as Everson & others have practiced) then the birth of real poetry occurs via the Hebraic tradition (Ginsberg, Meltzer, Hirschman), streetcomer bardic (Micheline, Kaufman, Levy), the journey (Homer, Wolfe, Kerouac, among others), the Dionysian rituals of sex, drugs & rock n roll.

In RD Armstrong's On/Off The Beaten Path, the poet attempts to engage the shamanic/archetypal through a sequence of events, feelings, fears, confrontations in an automobile on a journey from L.A. to Albuquerque. Experientially, it is the journey to connect with mentors. It is written in language that evokes heart that exists in the now but also is beating pained with the past. It's like a Morse Code of the poet's special dialectic, evoking places, names, landscapes which will take the poet back to a landscape of pain, of youth & excess, of mortality .

Jim Harrison once wrote, "The poet is only a sorcerer bored with magic who has turned his attention elsewhere. " Armstrong has turned his poetic attention to the open road: "Perhaps its the way the desert/camouflages its constant state of movement/hidden from our casual glimpses out/across the seemingly endless nothing/that sets us up for the next surprise ../a land devoid of definition/a blur of shapes/of dirty/washed out colors. ." the beaten path is the poet's love/hate relationship with an ageless landscape as well as his own interior one that for every mile, every small town, every butte, every railroad track crossed, is connecting him to his past. The "accursed shadow" that dogs his every move.

the beaten path is the long (I don't mean epic) poem as travelogue, something akin to Blaise Cendrars' Prose Of The Transsiberian... a confessional, a stream-of- consciousness piece, a journal entry. It is as if the desert Southwest is drawing the demons out of the poet at an alarming rate & placing them in his peripheral vision, sometimes, just out of reach of his language. It is what gives this poem its tension, its verisimilitude. Once he lands in Albuquerque at the home of a fellow poet, the sustenance of talk & camaraderie diminishes the shadow but only for awhile. The Shadow is potent, it is the Trickster of Southwest Native American lore that scours the arroyos, stands of cho11a & city streets for souls like the poet's. All Armstrong had to do was take the trip, air it out with language, attempt to make sense of it. .he ducks out of Albuquerque & turns for home in an ailing automobile: I hurtle across it/alone/moving aheadlthe car vibrating/like in the dream/rattling into the falling sun/into the silent roaring/space/the ugliness that waits/between words/between worlds. .the chant, the haunted chorus of a past that he can't reconcile with the land he's crossing, running into, away from. In New Mexico, they're all here: the archetypes, the shamans, the whackos, the Humpbacked Flute Player, Raven, Trickster Coyote, the curandera, the bruja. {If what Everson says is true, & I paraphrase, that for the poet the main way to evoke the shaman in oneself is to engage the demonic, Armstrong certainly has done this. ) But I don't like to throw around the word shaman too much. It's overused. Not every poet is one anymore than every poet is an outlaw, but in both cases you can tell in a New Mexican minute who isn't.

On/Off The Beaten Path is an engaging work. You read as Armstrong sometimes struggles with his language against the landscape; but when both merge at times into that magic whole, it is powerful; you feel his duende; you can sense his vulnerability. & you know he'll be back to stalk the Shadow, that's why he's a poet.


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