Seven Stories Press
Barry Gifford has been cataloguing outside movements and creating enduring characters to tell underground tales for some 40+ years now, across 40+ titles; many know him first and foremost for his novels and stories – or certainly for the film versions (Wild at Heart, Perdita Durango) and for his collaboration with David Lynch for the frightening/perfect/bonkers Lost Highway. It’s no surprise when you take in Gifford’s writing for cinema that poetry is close to his heart. In fact his first published poetry – his debut collection – appeared a half-decade before any stories and novels.
So Imagining Paradise: New and Selected Poems features Gifford’s personal highlights from across the nine previous volumes of poetry he’s published. And a generous smattering of new works.
Gifford writes convincingly across many themes – jazz, travel, romance, lost love and so seamless is his switch from realism to surrealism that he’s all at once Ernest Hemingway and William Carlos Williams, Bukowski and August Kleinzahler. Gifford’s own voice shines through of course, it’s clear, unmistakable but he’s able to trace around the footsteps of others, a not-quite Beat writer, a not-quite travel writer, a diarist of sorts; both poet (in the technical sense) and storyteller (in the purest way).
As a career summary of the poetry that Gifford has offered in and around his prose – some of these works seem like footnotes, addendums to the “main” writing, others stand on their own, some possibly the trigger for a longer prose piece to follow – this is a must-have collection. Gifford’s steady eye, wry humour, bold sincerity and just-right turn of phrase will have you turning the pages. His time-capsule approach, the spot-on observations, the cataloguing of life as it happens, as it changes, as we move through it, will have you returning to turn the pages again and again.
Postscript: I was lucky enough to be in San Francisco last year to attend the almost ad-hoc launch of this book. We were going to see Willy Vlautin read some stories and sing some songs. He was on the bill as opening act/double-bill with Gifford. An amazing evening at City Lights – an amazing/iconic book store. They shared the stage for songs, both read stories and Gifford offered a selection of the poems from this book. It was one of my favourite experiences from my American trip last year. A real treat.