Selected Poems (1978-2000)
--His first full length book chosen from 28 different chapbooks--
An Introduction to Drunk and Disorderly from the Editor
I first read Alan Catlin's Joyce in Hades when I was a kid, 13 years at best, borrowing his books from the Schenectady Public Library in upstate New York. The book is utterly depressing and fascinating in its original format, much of the prose abuts large scale photos of buildings iced over and left to ruin, snowy graveyards, statues, and asylums, which are all covered with decayed sootish snow. I could relate to the book as a futuristic version of Schenectady, perhaps too well, as I adroitly witnessed our fine city close down, the jobs move to Mexico, and watched our area reach a 20% unemployment rate by the time I graduated high school. These were photos of the graveyard we started to escape to as our familes became homebound for more time than ever before, of the statues that reminded us of our past prosperity, of the solidly frozen house we rightly predicted when my next door neighbors disappeared one day, abandoning their two story structure and two cats to a bank foreclosure. Catlin deals with reality, however grim; therefore, mentioning the backdrop to these poems might be useful.
This first full-length collection in a substantial edition is designed to clarify the breadth and importance of this diversely voiced poet, remininscent of Robert Browning, but only in his width of tone change. Catlin has unfortunately been saddled with the moniker of being a "bar poet," and while this statement is true insofar as his profession as a bartender, combined with his largest circulation collections containing drinking references, his other publications as a poet are entirely different. Watch these poems carefully, note how variously they change, from heavy references to literature, to bar poems in plain speech; the breadth of this collection is where Catlin's magic is contained. Extending beyond the simple label of bar poet, Catlin's structure ranges from poems to prose, from short lines dripping down the page to a Whitmanesque cadence. As well, the subject material changes rapidly, from bar room brawls to orchestral intimations, to flinging forth Lorca into a poetic world different from his original mechanized entity or Cavafy's Alexandria. Catlin writes as variously as possible. He truly "does the police in different voices." In an age where the gossamer-like loftiness of "finding your voice" is supposed to be important, these poems flip the bird.
And yet, as with any good bartender, and I have seen him work, Catlin's a listener, in the active sense; he hears that which is important in the voice, records the details, then reports the evidence. But there is an additional element, a cautious measure creeping through most of these poems. At any moment these poems might turn on you, tear you apart, throw you out of the saloon or force you to eat a pickled dyed red vienna sausage. Be careless as a reader elsewhere; in short, be mindful, you might feel something.
These poems were chosen over many months of work where I would read a few chapbooks, call Alan, tell him my favorites, he would state his, then we worked out a general list. As the reading time reached a close and a clearer idea of the book length we were striving toward appeared, some more material was added and subtracted.
Drunk and Disorderly was created because Catlin had over fifty chapbooks published without a single book length collection contributing to American Literature. With this collection I hope to show how Alan Catlin has been, and continues to be, an important poet whose work is deserving of ready availablity.
A single Catlin poem can be depended on for a quick fix, a little buzz of realization achieved without working out cryptograms or chasing allusions through Bullfinch. However, most of the poems do a good deal more than provide this vital, flaring recognition of some kind of truth through metaphor or sharp observance, but provide a richly textured vehicle for the insight.
"With this generous selection of poetry, crowning more than twenty
years, we are offered an insight into Alan Catlin’s great talent and too, the
chance to marvel at its undiminished strength. He is a poet to be trusted,
writing from the heart and with honesty few poets today would chance. I am
honored to recommend Drunk and Disorderly. "
"Alan Catlin has a breadth of knowledge and range
of voice nothing short of amazing. One page it's Joyce
or Proust, the next drunken conventioneers, then
a small son afraid and awed by it all. Open this book
to any page: again and again you will find beneath
it all pumps a poet's heart full of compassion and
spit and truth."
Alan Catlin is a poet with immense staying power. Drunk and Disorderly is a selected poems covering more than 20 years and 26 collections in which he writes with dark perceptions ranging from a mentally ill mother, to Garcia Lorca, Shelley, Joyce, denizens of bars, Marianne Moore and much more. These poems are always skillfully composed and illuminated by the light of his intelligence and wit.
--Laurel Speer, Small Press