The first full length collection by this poet in nearly thirty years shows a intricacy of form of its own kind.
"Consider the sun falling in Illinois / then before you can retain a breath / there's Indiana..." strikes me as the best serial staging of cultural geography I've seen since Burma Shave signs.
Carl Thayler has been one of the hidden masters of American poetry for nearly forty years. His language is as sharp as a skinner's knife, and reveals exactly what's beneath the skin - far more complex and beautiful than any micro-chip orchestra or the unblinking innards of a Rolex. We get one world per customer. Here's Carl's - cognoscenti will recognize J. Dean, D. Varsi of Peyton Place, the cream of country singers and fast drivers, old poets, good women, and gnarly codgers encountered between now and LA fifty years ago.
More personal and local than the epic sprawl of his recent Poems From Naltsus Bichidin, Carl Thayler's Shake Hands goes after readers with a frequently agonized, always lively honesty. Barrooms, love affairs, roadside ephemera, bankrupt religion, a western sky under which recognizing one's inevitable loneliness becomes the only possible way to reach out to others; all these things swarm up at readers like barely comprehensible dangers lurching into one's headlights on an all night drive to nowhere in particular. One feels in these poems both Thayler's fear of writing them and his need to do so. These are not the comments of a smug cultural observer. Instead, Shake Hands reads like the knotted midnight confessions of the writer for whom only poems can manage to say what would otherwise never get said.
Fierce and unflinching, Carl Thayler makes poems that are vulnerable nonetheless in their feeling search for truth. That there be an achieved knowledge of truth in an unredeemed world-as the poet calls it-is remarkable enough, but the music lifts also with sudden strikes of ecstatic clarity. Like Hank Williams or Lefty Frizzell, he follows the unpredictable and at times predacious wanderings of the heart. The result-a lyric dignity very hard to locate these days of shallow, post-modern irony-love.