Tapping Ashes In The Dark

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by horrorsleazetrash on October 18, 2010

Tapping Ashes In The Dark
By Rob Plath
42 pages, Saddle-stitched
$5
Lummox Press, 2008

sitting at a red light
tapping the ashes
out into the dark
i think for a moment
of all the men
spending their first night
in their graves
(from “feeling lucky”)

Rob Plath’s “Tapping Ashes In The Dark” is a remarkable volume of poetry that is testament to what a chapbook COULD and SHOULD be. The twenty-seven poems that comprise the volume are well-crafted, tightly entwined, and work seamlessly to produce a unified vision of the inner landscape of “a true fucking poet.”


a father beats
his son
within
its walls
where bones
are broken
more than
bread
sounds
fucked up
but it’s
the price
we pay
for the
birth of
a true
fucking poet
(from “the price”)

The book, as the title suggests, contains many poems where cigarettes, cigars, and smoking are employed as subject matter. For the poet of tapping ashes, coughing and the sickness of smoking become metaphors not only for poetry, but also for the craft of writing poetry.

poetry is born
long before it hits
the white page
it is born deep
in the branches of
the wheezing lung-sacks
(from “my spit cup”)

the glob floated
half below
& half on
the surface
like a small
yellowish
jellyfish with
one eye
of blood
at the center
the mascot
of my poetry
(from “mascot of poetry”)

This crude metaphor plays an important role in describing what poetry means in the mouth of the “poet laureate of landfills.” For him poetry is not born from happiness and lofty ideals, rather it’s born from misery and the everyday moments most consider to be beneath poetry.

i sift through
empty beer bottles
& tuna cans for my verse
ragged tin tops
slice my hands
(from “poet laureate of landfills”)

The poet introduces himself as the “poet laureate of landfills,” which is more than just a witty phrase; it’s a blueprint for the anti-academic poet. The subject matter for the anti-academic poet is anything and everything, including the 99.9 % of non-poetic moments that comprise our daily routine. Here the poet advises us not to be “a dictator” and to unload our poems “whatever way they demand”: “… a grocery list, … a sermon of bile, … a pimped-out childhood memory, … a money shot/a beer shit/an autopsy.” (from “unloading poems”) The important lesson here is to keep writing, keep banging away at the keyboard, and to not let anything tyrannize you.

The “poet laureate of landfills” also instructs us to write our poems in “simple straight talk,” as though we were talking a jumper off a ledge. Most academic poetry involves the employment of rhyme, meter, and words that one doesn’t normally use in everyday life. The result is writing that doesn’t really speak to anyone. A “good, raw poem” is something one doesn’t need to work at understanding – it’s something that reaches through the page and pokes at our liver. For the jumper on the ledge who is looking for a life-line to grasp onto, anything but “simple straight talk” is (as Plath puts it) “equivalent to pushing the fucker off.” (from “poetry: a definition”)

In “Fifteen Minutes,” an epic poem about a picnic trip with his parents and two of his friends, the poet presents an unflinching portrayal of his father. Although the poet’s father appears in numerous poems, “Fifteen Minutes” is not only one of the finest poems in the book, it’s one of the finest poems I’ve read anywhere.

i ask him not to go off and what
does the cocksucker do? he shouted

in the oncoming headlights
you could see his spray of spit
on the windshield
he didn’t care at all that my friends
were right in the back seat

i can’t even have a good time
without this fuck ruining it, he screamed

i had to wait two fucking hours
for this little prick, he yelled

now we don’t go anywhere
for the rest of the summer, he screamed

i’ve had it with this motherfucker,
he added

don’t you think that is enough?
my mother finally said

i don’t know why the fuck
i bother, he yelled

i can’t stand this little
motherfucker, he screamed
(from “fifteen minutes”)

In one of the great metaphors of the book, the transience of life is compared to the consistency of cigarette smoke. Everything from furniture to love to life itself is as unsubstantial as cigarette smoke: the only thing of any substance whatsoever is death.

one day death will put its fist
right through this table
as easy as plunging
it through the smoke
that floats above it
(from “card tables and makeshift ashtrays”)

you draw in
long and good

then blow out hard

sighing simultaneously

watching the smoke
spreading across
the small room

swirling up through
the green lampshade

rising out of the top
like a genie
without any wishes
to grant you
(from “no wishes”)

I want to make a sidebar observation here. The first time I read “Tapping Ashes In The Dark” it was like the first time I read “Crime And Punishment” by Dostoevsky, where the words and ideas were like a feast that I’d ingested. That was in 2008 when I didn’t know Rob Plath apart from “Tapping Ashes In The Dark.” I thought that Plath was a dying man, and that tapping ashes was his last will and testament. It was this “if you’re gonna do something, better do it quick” thinking that inspired me to contact Plath in the first place. Since reading tapping ashes, I’m fortunate enough to not only count Rob as one of my very best friends, but also (as a publisher) fortunate to publish Rob’s work in Tree Killer Ink, as well as release his “A Bellyful Of Anarchy,” and later this month, his “There’s A Fist Dunked In Blood Beating In My Chest.” I can trace everything back to this very special “little red book” – which is a must have book for anyone who writes poetry, reads poetry, teaches poetry, or publishes poetry

Plath’s “Tapping Ashes In The Dark” is one of the finest chapbooks that I’ve ever read (and re-read). By the time you’re finished with this book you’ll have experienced brief minutes inside the mind of a “true fucking poet” – and you’ll know how it feels to walk a mile in his shoes. And if you’re lucky you’ll take the lessons from “the poet laureate of landfills” to heart and walk away a better poet yourself.

“Tapping Ashes In The Dark” is available directly through the Lummox Press website, here.

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