Review of The Darkness of His Dreams by Candice Louisa Daquin

The Darkness of His Dreams by John W. Leys

Reviewed by Candice Louisa Daquin

I have consistently admired John Leys as a writer for several reasons. He’s very honest to himself. He’s not an overtly crude writer, though he is clearly gender biased (as most, aside the very best, tend to be) and he is true to himself and very passionate about his beliefs.

In his latest collection of poetry published by Broken Wing Publishing, in the poem the book is titled from, Leys writes; “They all want a hero /Not an uncommon want, it seems/ But in whom does a hero confide/ The true darkness of his dreams?”

It is this early poem that speaks loudest of Leys intention with this poetry collection. He’s expressing how difficult it is to meet expectations and irrespective, whom do you tell of your real feelings?

This struck me perhaps more deeply than anything Leys has thus written, for its brute honesty and how relatable this is. How often we try to be heroes of one form or another, going through life with positive affirmations, and never telling a soul of our true thoughts, and sometimes, how dark in comparison they are.

When I practiced as a psychotherapist the #1 thing clients would relate is what a burden it was to go through life trying to be tough and not being able to really speak their truth. If we take this as a snapshot of a greater picture, then many of us are trapped by convention and society from really exposing our true feelings. Leys cuts to this truth instantly and with his intuitive understanding of human nature. That said, the majority of the rest of his book until the last few poems, doesn’t really go as deep as this poem does, which I would have liked to see.

Leys collection is relatively short in comparison to some of the over-long poetry collections I have recently read. I like the length. It really works. Less can be more. The poignancy of his writing is powerful with this amuse bouche of poems, and it is exactly right. In addition Leys lost his mother not long before the publication of this book and I assumed it would be one of the over arcing themes in his writing, but there is less of that than expected until you reach the end and far more paid homage to favorite poem who have passed, or just those he admires. More than anything, Leys justifies the VALUE of being a writer/poet and how healing the process can be, how necessary, how valuable emotionally.

Leys is also clever, sardonic and funny. In his poem My Generation he writes: “I didn’t escape Minnesota in a snowstorm, / I didn’t go mad at Arfderydd / I didn’t smash a guitar at Woodstock / I didn’t drown in Delacroix.” The juxtaposition of very intensely emotional writing alongside this witty reprieve from intensity works well in permitting the reader to traverse the varied aspects of the writer’s mind, aside being relevant and amusing.

In Is There Anybody Out There? I couldn’t help admiring the sheer confessional honesty of Leys writing. Few men especially are willing to really put it all out there; “Desperately shoving notes and folded photographs / Under the cell door, hoping an Orderly doesn’t see. / Walls full, pencil broken” It says a LOT about anyone willing to ensure the scrutiny of readership when sharing their most scathing experiences. This takes a courage few writers are capable of, and a fortitude of soul that enables that author to push the envelope time and again.

I am drawn to Leys most simple pieces because whilst he is clearly a very clever man, it is the simplicity of his insight that I find so humbling and pure; “There is no tall / Without something short / To be taller than,” (Wholeness). So much is said in so little. It is perhaps easiest to be clever using long words, extensive knowledge of literature etc., but to speak simply and convey a world in a few lines, that takes a master. “Collect all the gold your heart desires, / You’ll still end your life dead.” (That Dog Diogenes).

Male writers often have a tendency to fall back on sex, desire and lust in their writing, it’s not universal but quite commonplace and it appeals to me when I can read a male writer who doesn’t use this as one of his obsessions. Even when Leys mentions sex, he does it in a high relevant way that doesn’t leave you thinking he’s just trying to get his rocks off; “I saw Diogenes last Sunday, / Masturbating in the street, / “If only twas so easy,” he said, / “To cure hunger without having to eat.”” (That Dog Diogenes). Again, that might not be as popularist as the shock-sex-fueled poets, but the intelligence and observations here are longer lasting.

There are odes to many other (nearly all male) writes by Leys, that if you like those authors/songwriters you will appreciate, and see the influences of, in Leys own well informed work. I was aware of how men tended to influence Leys far more than women, and when he does talk of women; “Siddhartha and dear mother Eve / Discuss the nature of knowledge.” (II Dreams) I felt there was sometimes something missing, which might prompt him with future work, to consider the importance of a wider audience. Although we are all guilty of our favorites and our biases.

My favorite poem is III Reflections; “What recipe will tell how much “artistic value” / Must be added to write about double-D breasts/ In iambic pentameter? / Is one asshole enough to get a book banned, / Or is it ass-fucking that tips us over the line? / Is missionary hetero-sex OK as long as / No one pisses on a crucifix,” at first glance may contain the crudity I mentioned Leys didn’t concern himself with, but I think it’s smarter than mere foul-language. I think Leys really speaks to the hypocrisy of our society with this piece and gets to the marrow of our shallowness and preoccupation with the wrong things. As such, it’s far more a political piece than a crude work.

Admittedly I found a few pieces a little disquieting or just not quite on mark with the perspectives I personally hold. I like to read authors who can write fluidly about both genders not just one, (although I have been personally guilty of this many times myself!) and I didn’t connect with the lines; “America, Julia Roberts whore with a heart of gold / Waiting for the right billionaire to come along And save you from the cold hard streets (and herpes). / Must’ve never read the Buddha’s Dhammapada: / Nobody can Richard Gere you out of the whorehouse but you.” (America).

The reason for this isn’t that there wasn’t truth there, but it tended to read as judging, condemning and slightly shallow. That said, it was the only poem that struck me that way and may lie in how Leys and I view feminism and women differently. Leys goes on to say in this poem, that he loves America despite the racism and homophobic hate, and I felt that was missing the point in how the language of the poem was constructed and someone could argue, well it’s easy as a heterosexual white man to feel this way?

Some of the final three poems in this collection are: The Last Supper is in Sight, The Night I Heard the News and Kaddish for Karen Leys (1952-2018). Being born Jewish myself I was biased in my response to these beautiful poems especially the latter, but even had I not been, it stands as  a testimony of love for John Leys’ mother; “for How to summarize a life, a soul/  In words, pictures, and songs/  –What my mother means to me/   in 200 words or less/ — Where to begin, what to say,/ We all know how it ends.” Whilst I might have preferred more of The Darkness of His Dreams had contained poems like this, rather than about Leys idols, he is true to the man he is, and this last poem more than brings his mother to the foreground in an exquisite memorial; “Children of Abraham, / I breathe out Kaddish, / An involuntary response / Only the dead and I can hear.” I think all his readers hear this with the love he possesses for his mother, and she hears it too. The Darkness of His Dreams is after all, not so very dark but quite redeeming and affirming of the longevity of love.

 

The Darkness of His Dreams is available in Paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon.com

All the Beginnings of Everything [Review]

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All the Beginnings of Everything is a poetic triumph for Kindra M. Austin. As in her previous collections, the loss of Austin’s mother and the resulting grief is a shadow that still hangs over much of the poetry in this collection, though here Austin pushes beyond that specific grief and focusses her poetic lens on her entire life and history. Austin opens up her veins and lets her life, her pain, her anger, and her history bleed onto the page. In the tradition of confessional poets such as Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, Austin lays everything bare in a sometimes uncomfortably personal way. But the best poetry makes you a little uncomfortable as it makes you question yourself and the world around you. And while she is baring her soul, Austin is always in control and always strong as she guides you through her psyche. Like Van Gogh she turns trauma, grief, and pain into a beautiful work of art that points the way to the light we all strive for.

All the Beginnings of Everything is a well-crafted poetic cycle that will leave you wanting more and I cannot recommend it enough.

Between the Trees by Kristiana Reed [Book Review]

Between the Trees: Poetry and Prose is the debut poetry collection by Kristiana Reed of My Screaming Twenties and Free Verse Revolution. This is much more than just a collection of verse and prose. Reed has created a vessel for the reader to follow her in on a poetic journey through her life, which is bookended by the poems ‘Between the Trees’ and ‘Beyond the Trees’ (The poem ‘Grown Up’ appears first in the collection, acting as a prologue to the poetic cycle that follows).

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The Viking Spirit [Book Review]

This is the first of a new feature on this blog. I’ll be posting ocassional reviews of books that I am reading, poetry related or not. If you’d like to see more of these, please let me know in the comments.

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Title: The Viking Spirit: An Introduction to Norse Mythology and Religion.

Author: Daniel McCoy

This book is intended as a introduction to Norse/Viking Mythology and culture for the layman. It is written in a fairly accessible style and contains a plethora of information and retells many of the best known tales from Norse Mythology. He also includes many footnotes and a large bibliography if one is inclined to read deeper about these topics. However, there are some pretty substantial flaws in the book that a potential reader should be aware of:

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History of the Ælfar – Part I (Prose)

Note: This is an excerpt from a larger project that I have been working on for many years concerning the mythical and legendary history of Britain.

Excerpt from

Antiqua
Historia Britanniae

(The Ancient History of Britannia)

by Emrys of Carmarthen (c 390 CE)

Edited by John W. Leys

They came from beyond the horizon, perhaps traveling on sunbeams across the heavens, and settled beyond the north wind. The Eldar, the elder races, who inhabited these lands long before the advent of mankind. Tall and slight of build their delicate features radiate an unexpected sense of power, intelligence, and beauty. Though they are said to have a lifespan several times that of a man, their lives are said to be significantly shorter than their forbearers, who were said to be practically immortal, barring accidents. Whether this is due to, as some claim, interbreeding with mankind, or merely a sign
of entropy’s ever-increasing hold on our world is ultimately unknown. Called the Ælfar, a name thought to be related to the Latin word album (white) due to their pale complexion and the glow they radiate, their ultimate origin is a mystery, even, it would seem, to themselves.

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The Simple Secret (Prose Fragments)

In Chapter II of Summer of a Doormouse the main character, Jack, talks about and shares a short piece of a story that he had been writing called ‘The Simple Secret,’, which he says was inspired by Pete Townshend‘s unfinished “Lifehouse” project. The Simple Secret is an actual story that I began writing when I was in high school, never finished, and attempted to blend into Summer of a Doormouse a few years later. I thought I would share the rest of what I had written for that story. I don’t think its as good as Summer of a Doormouse, but I am rather fond of parts of it. Not bad for a teenager.

The Simple Secret

The future’s been seen
As men try to realize
The simple secret of a note in a song
– Pete Townshend, 1971

8 December 3920

Jim felt the bullets slice through his back, as he and Aurora fell through the rapidly closing hatchway. Tumbling to the deck, Aurora caught a glimpse of his wounds. The fur began to stand up on her back. She had only met this man a few months ago, but in that time he’d saved her life several times. She didn’t want him to die because of her.
Lying flat on his back Jim’s eyes began to glass over. Aurora cradled his head in her arms. Her tail unconsciously brushed his arm. She tried to feign indifference, but it didn’t seem to help the situation. Jim stared into space for what seemed like eons, finally he spoke.
“Is this the end?” Aurora tried to reassure him, but she sat mute as he began to cough up blood along with pieces of his lung. “Is this it?” He croaked, “Is it finally over?” Jim could taste the salty fluid in his mouth and knew he was going to die, but that wasn’t what was worrying him. “Please. . .” He tried to speak as his stomach emptied its contents into Aurora’s furry lap. She didn’t seem bothered by this or the dry heaves that followed. She was crying too hard to be bothered by anything so trivial. “Please,” his voice sounded as if he’d been chewing on broken glass, “why do you have to make it so damn hard? I’ve almost found. . .it. . .Please. . .” Jim’s gray eyes began to fill with tears as his body spasmed. The muscles in his neck tensed suddenly raising his head up several inches into the air. Another spasm came and his body fell limp, his head dropping into the pool of blood and vomit in Aurora’s lap. Continue reading

Summer of a Doormouse: After the Party (Prose)

These fragments are from a very early draft of Summer of a Doormouse in which the main narrative followed directly after the Prologue instead of going into a flashback as it does in the version of Chapter I posted on this blog. You may notice some discontinuity between these fragments and the other posted parts of Summer of a Doormouse. This is because they come from two different drafts. I do not have a copy of my original draft of the prologue on my computer. I’m missing it and other pieces of the first draft, though I believe I have them in storage somewhere. If I locate them I will post them.

29 December 1979

His delicate, somewhat attractive, feminine features are now drawn, shallow, and sickly. The light build that I’d once found strangely alluring is now repulsively frail. The over sized nose, which I had once defended as being aristocratic, now seems swollen and bulbous. Eyes that once transmitted so much emotion, be it laughter or tears, are now glassy and bloodshot. His hair hangs long, stringy, and unwashed. I don’t think he’s shaved or bathed in at least three days. It would seem that he’s turned destroying his life, among other things, into an art form. Continue reading

Summer of a Doormouse: Alternate Prologue #2 (Prose)

These is a revised version of the first Alternate prologue for my unfinished Summer of a Doormouse project. It was written around 4 years later in October 2008. It is, if I’m not mistaken, the last major work I did on this project.

Summer of a Doormouse

Prologue

Through the dirty mud smudged bus window I watch as New Jersey blends into Pennsylvania, traveling to a meeting where a complete stranger will decide my future. I am alone, without a home. Not that I am homeless by any means. I live in a dorm room at Columbia University in Manhattan, while the majority of my belongings reside with my fiance in Pennsylvania in the apartment we share when I’m not at school. But neither of these feels much like “home” anymore, if indeed they ever did. Strangely, the Columbia dorm room feels more like a home than my fiance’s apartment these days, and not merely because I spend the majority of my time there. I hesitate to let the thought crack my conscious mind, but I feel her life slipping away from mine, as though we were still “together” out of habit as much as anything else. How telling is it that I am returning to Shillington briefly for a bankruptcy hearing and she could find no time to see me while I’m here. Continue reading

Summer of a Doormouse: Alternate Prologue (Prose)

This prose fragment is an alternate beginning to Summer of a Doormouse. This version of the story never got passed this point. A few years later I rewrote this prologue pretty extensively, but didn’t get any further.

Summer of a Doormouse

Prologue

The years peel back like an onion as memories float by outside the dirty Greyhound window. So long ago it seems a dream, or a story told to me long ago about someone else. Maybe it didn’t happen at all. Could it all just be a story I’ve told myself so often, trying to get the details right, that it seems real to me now?
The bus travels through the Lincoln Tunnel toward New Jersey as I write, the vibration of the bus on the road making it difficult to write legibly, which is always a challenge when my brain talks faster than my hand can write.
To be sure its a story I’ve attempted to tell many time over the past few decades, always with little success. I even tried piggy backing, marrying it to another unfinished story by another author. It was a good story built around a grand dream. But it wasn’t my dream; it wasn’t my story. Its hard enough in life to try and live out your own dreams without trying to tackle someone else’s as well.
I’m traveling home now for a brief meeting with my lawyer. I don’t recall any lawyers from my dreams, but sometimes in real life you must meet with lawyers. Despite what you may have heard, life is not a dream. Continue reading

Summer of a Doormouse: On the Beach (a prose fragment)

The following fragment was written for my Summer of a Doormouse project. I wasn’t quite sure where it would be placed in relation to the rest of the narrative, though the scene is mentioned in passing in the draft of Chapter II I posted on this blog as one of Jack’s reaccuring dreams, though the nature and relative reality of these dreams is not addressed within the chapters that have been written and posted thus far.

All my life everything seemed to be building up to something. Something special. Something that I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to participate in. I had been expecting something on the order of Christ’s passion, or at the very least something similar to what had happened to Kilgore Trout in Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. In the end it all seems somewhat anti-climatic. Nothing happened. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe life has no point to it after all. Continue reading