A Perfect Throw

stout final cover april 8


From the machismo of Mexican ballplayers, to a portrait of marriage, to an 1880s mining town, Mr. Stout convincingly exposes the human comedy, portraying tenderness and treachery, loyalty and betrayal, love and loss—the full range of difficult emotions that proves there is no such thing as an ordinary life. He frankly and poignantly balances the quotidian with the ironic twists that define the human condition. In landscapes both familiar and foreign, Stout’s poems emerge as insightful narratives reflecting the poet’s aesthetic and ethical awareness with quiet artistry. In the final section, Wife of the Jew, Mr. Stout’s writing is reminiscent of Robert Cooperman’s The Widow’s Burden and In the Colorado Gold Fever Mountains, giving us an intimate view of a more difficult and less forgiving time. Mr. Stout has a perceptive eye, a keen ear and a confident hand. His willingness to confront life head on make this a book we will read and return to again and again.
Ann Howells, Editor—Illya’s Honey

http://www.amazon.com/Perfect-Throw-Robert-Joe-Stout/dp/0615793428/ref=sr_1_3?s=books

Excerpt

Going to a Restaurant with Margaret
the Day After Her Chemotherapy

Neon caromed through her glance–the WELCOME!
sign above the door; she clutched my hand
and gasped–up! arduous, this simple act
of stepping into space beyond the moment.

Her lips ran a maze through wrinkles
pulling crooked threads into a smile.
I smiled. Are you okay? Her daughter’s fingers
trembled on her sweater sleeve.

For a moment, face to face, they nested
in each other’s fear, the mother’s lips
emitting daughter’s No! It isn’t true!
as truth gnawed through the soft digestive core

we came to treat, food being nourishment.
Oh thanks! her fingers clawed my arm, one tiny
fraction of a lifetime spent, so little left,
each breath, each step, a parting word.

Commentaries

My intention when I began writing the poems in They Still Play Baseball the Old Way” section of a Perfect Throw was to present the Mexico I know and live in through portraits of the members of a ragtag semi-pro baseball team. The Mexico I know is not tourist-centered beaches and archeological tour sites. It is a studio apartment on a deadend corridor called Astronomos in a workingclass Mexico City barrio. It is dusty unpaved streets leading to the ballpark in Tamuín where my neighbor Edmundo umpired town team games. It is the wonderful little waterfalls in the highlands of Chiapas where campesinos brought their goats to drink. It is Gregor, the plumber, who could fix anything, including marital disputes. It is Angel who, despite his name, was an intrepid scamp with a heart as big as his ego. It is La Abuelita on her knees praying to the Virgin that her kidnapped granddaughter be returned. It is poverty and pain and delight  and the energy to cope with life’s improbable consequences. And it is baseball, played with passion if not always with skill. But with a joy akin to love.

Uh, Poetry?

It was a serious conversation about immigration and cultural values: Syrian refugees, Mexican indocumentos, the Diaspora. Newcomers to a strange land always had to struggle, to reinvent themselves, to adapt without losing their integrity, their sense of who they were and who they wanted to be. I mentioned having written about immigrants to the American West: miners from Cornwall in England, from Wales, from Montenegro in the Balkans, German beermakers, Chinese railroad workers. Peoples from separate cultures that clashed but also merged, as did a Welsh miner’s widow and a Jewish peddler who established a life together despite hardship and discrimination in a desolate Nevada wilderness. Those with me were fascinated, they wanted to read what I’d published, but when I said it was a section of a poetry volume called A Perfect Throw: “Oh! Poetry…” Not history, not fiction, but… poetry. No longer were they interested. Poetry was, well, poetry. Novels could tell fascinating stories . Nonfiction could relate engrossing true accounts. But…poetry? It was, well, different.

         Unfortunately poetry is different for many who write poetry. One academic trend advocates transforming language (often to something unintelligible). Often members of linkedin, goodreads, google poetry groups debate whether prose poetry is really poetry. Or Christian verse is really poetry. When I mention that the portrayals in an award-winning poetry chapbook of mine are members of a Mexican semi-pro baseball team people think I’m bullshitting them. Or that the first section of poems in the volume Monkey Screams are Vietnam War testimonies. To both poets and non-readers of poetry such poems are three-headed cats—something not to be meddled with because they don’t conform to the murky ambience that shrouds real poetry, as if a definition of real poetry exists.

Certainly it didn’t seem to for the group I mention above. Nor for many readers (and writers for that matter.) This lack of definition creates a nebulousness that in most people’s perception seems esoteric, akin to mysticism or dreams. Better a predictably entertaining romance novel. Or self-help guide to making money. But…poetry?

         How about a soap opera instead?

Wife of the Jew

         “The Wife of the Jew” section of A Perfect Throw emerged from research that I was doing as a freelance journalist about Nevada and northern California nineteenth century history. I’d published accounts of Cornish and Welsh miners, Chinese railroad workers, beer making founded by German brewmasters, lumber ships, riverboats, pioneer schoolteachers—a variety of personal and ethnic histories about settlers and events that were instrumental in creating the culture that evolved on the deserts, in the mountains and along the waterways after the Gold Rush that began in 1848.

Among the hundreds of fascinating documents was a Nevada newspaper tidbit about a section of a diary written by a Welsh miner’s widow that had turned up amid other books at an estate sale in the 1950s. It wasn’t information that I was able to use in any of the articles I was writing but corresponded to other accounts about hardrock mining in desolate areas of Nevada and tempted me to begin a poetical account based on oral and written immigrant experiences that I’d accumulated in my research.

Among magazine features that I’d published were two or three about European-born Jewish peddlers who traveled from one isolated community to another selling, buying and trading everything from spools of thread to Bowie knives. Eventually many of these peddlers became store owners. I decided to merge two histories—that of a Welsh miner’s widow and that of a Jewish peddler—into one long narrative.

Since I was still freelancing as well as working for an alternative weekly the writing of “Wife of the Jew” came together slowly over a period of four or five months. Individual sections appeared in various magazines and journals but the chapbook-length “Wife of the Jew” didn’t appear as a beginning-to-end entity until A Perfect Throw was published in 2013.

 

 

 

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