Alternative: 25 Poems: by Doug Saretsky, 27 pgs. By Eric Carlson

Doug Saretsky, guitarist of Envenomed and publisher of Vile Dominion fanzine, has put together an often thought-provoking chapbook of twenty-five poems that continue the poetic underbelly tradition of Rimbaud, the Beats, and Bukowski, and as with those Bards of the Margin, Saretsky makes good use of metaphor to create some particularly wrenching images. He is particularly effective when he’s writing on topics such as the often ridiculous and clichéd nature of what is supposedly avant garde. One of the best qualities of Saretsky’s work is his thoughtful rumination on how we unwittingly create traps for ourselves, be it a relationship, a job, needs and wants, or even more general and inclusive conceptions such as what constitutes the “alternative” when defiance of conventionalism becomes conventionalized itself, such as the “garden variety punk rock shitheads” to whom he refers in “Columbus Damn Poem.” This is not to say that the poet is divesting himself from the underbelly and creating a new underbelly beneath that one; at the same time these poems convey a sense of pragmatism regarding such traps and a begrudging acceptance of the limitations of originality. Saretsky’s work senses the need to defy all convention for its own sake, even the conventions of the “alternative,” but still acknowledges that we must knowingly participate in the same community that is to be defied, negotiating the thin lines between creative restlessness, comfort, and complacency.

            The one problem that I have with Saretsky’s work is a matter of economy. His poems tend to have a rambling, conversational style that freely uses enjambment over several lines. Admittedly, such unlimited application of free verse is now quite the norm in the world of modern poetry, particularly among subcultures and the lunatic fringe who make use of free verse for that very reason—a means of freeing the poet from convention. Alas, as Saretsky’s work so succinctly points out regarding other areas of alternative thought, even free verse has become clichéd and banal, and I feel that too often the ideas in these poems (and their power) are blunted by too many words finding their way to the paper. Saretsky’s best poems in this volume are those in which he maintains more rigid control regarding the poetic image—poems in which there is brevity and economy in the imagery, so that it has a much keener impact on the reader. Very often Saretsky’s final lines to a poem are wonderful in this regard; in a few short lines he will arrive at a brief yet powerful conclusion to all that has come before, but I’d like to see that powerful brevity throughout the poem. –The Lord Kveldulfr (Black Hoody Nation, 1970 Westwood Northern Blvd. #5, Cincinnati, OH 45225)