“Abracadabratude” by Chris O’Carroll; “Darkest Before Dawn” by Robert T. McMaster



By Chris O’Carroll
Books Kelsay

In a world of serious poets, Chris O’Carroll brings a lighter touch to things, using his witty verse to offer fresh takes on a number of topics, from love and sex to baseball and children’s stories. Comedian and poet – he described himself to the Gazette a few years ago as a “recovering journalist” – O’Carroll is a regular and award-winning contributor to a variety of online and published journals.

One such forum is “The Great American Wise Ass Poetry Anthology,” a collection which, according to its liner notes, “brings together the work of more than a hundred intelligent poets who serve as bulwarks against pomp and smugness of the modern popular. Culture.”

But in an introduction to O’Carroll’s new collection, “Abracadabratude”, fellow New England poet Alfred Nicol says that one should not be fooled by O’Carroll’s approach: “C he is a serious poet, a master craftsman with such a wealth of spirit, I imagine him raising a glass with the gang at the Mermaid Tavern.Those Elizabethans would have welcomed him like a kindred spirit.

In her new book, O’Carroll, who lives in Pelham, offers mostly short poems, but they’re focused on what’s important – and what’s still funny. Take the nine lines of “Dramatic Gestures”, which begin with “Tragedy ends in death, they taught, / While comedy ends in sex. / The comedy departures with sex, I would have thought. / The subject becomes very complex. »

Want a variety of topics? “Tall Tale” is inspired by a letter Frank Lloyd Wright wrote to The Nation in 1931 denouncing New York’s Empire State Building, while “Toke Me Out to the Ball Game”, a variation of the 1888 poem “Casey at the Bat,” followed the announcement in 2019 that Major League Baseball was removing marijuana from its list of banned substances for players.

“The outlook was, like, bright for the Weedville nine that day. / They vaped premium sativa. Ergo, ultra-psyché to play. // When Weedville got the munchies, there was no doubt / That the Cracker Jack and Peanut vendors would be sold out.

O’Carroll also reinvents certain poems and tales for children, imagining the owl and the kitty discovering during their honeymoon that “Coitus in any position” is a huge challenge for a cat and a bird. In “The Princess and the Pea”, meanwhile, the prince is delighted to marry a girl “who, to me, has it all, / is someone who knows how to get worked up in bed / for something incredibly small.”

In “Ode to a Dairy Product”, the poet delights in a variety of cheeses, writing that “To vindicate the ways of God, Stilton / Has the advantage over malt and Milton.” This particular poem is introduced by a quote from GK Chesterton, who once wrote “Poets have been mysteriously silent about cheese”.

But O’Carroll can also be open and – dare you say it – sincere when it comes to love. Perhaps the best example is “Good Enough Love Song,” in which the poet tells his better half that he remains eternally grateful that she chose to be with him.

“Thank you for settling for me, darling. / That’s exactly what I hoped you would do. / Although I know I’m not God’s gift to women, / God knows I could be good enough for you.

The darkest before dawn

by Robert T. McMaster

Unquomonk Press

Over the past 10 years, Williamsburg writer Robert T. McMaster has composed a series of novels, known as the Trolley Days Series, set in and around Holyoke in the second decade of the 20th century. Historically, it was a tumultuous time which provides a good backdrop for the books: war in Europe, growing battles between workers and capitalists at home, the movement for women’s suffrage, rising industrialization and tensions over immigration.

The series centers on Jack Bernard, the teenage son of working-class French-Canadian immigrants, and Tom Wellington, the Protestant son of a wealthy Holyoke factory owner. Despite their different backgrounds, the two form a friendship that takes them through a number of adventures and real dangers, while a host of supporting characters, including members of Jack and Tom’s families, help flesh out the stories. novels by examining universal issues of love, loss, happiness and conflict.

‘Darkest Before Dawn’, the fourth novel in the series, begins in March 1919. Jack, now 20, is heading to Boston aboard a packed troop ship from France, where he has spent the year last to serve in the US Army Corps of Engineers. World War I is over, the Germans have been defeated, and Jack has luckily avoided combat. But he has seen enough horribly injured men and destroyed cities to be sickened in his heart.

He is also discouraged that his lover, Anne Wellington – Tom’s sister – stopped writing to him months ago. He can only assume Anne dumped him for another man, though he doesn’t know why.

Tom, meanwhile, who had previously served in the United States Navy and barely survived the sinking of his ship by a German U-boat, is back in Holyoke, working for his father’s company and looking for more work. excitement in his life. An often reckless guy who had already earned himself several scratches, he plans to open a speakeasy, now that Prohibition is due to come into force in January 1920.

‘Darkest Before Dawn’ focuses on Jack’s abrupt re-entry into civilian life and into his family – his father, Charles, and his two younger sisters, Marie and Claire – and his mixture of anger and despair at his apparent abandonment by Anne. “At one point, Jack felt at home here… Now somehow he felt out of place, like a spectator, an outsider, seeing a world of which he was no longer a part.”

The novel also examines how World War I disrupted the local economy. Jack’s family, who have been farming for years with a neighboring family on neighboring land, have lost customers and need to find new markets for their produce. McMaster brings real detail to this part of the story, and one of the attractions of “Darkest Before Dawn” is learning how widespread farming was in the Valley a century ago, including Holyoke. .

Jack is a bit out of his shell when he reconnects with an old high school friend, Pauline Foley, who is now a student at Wellesley College. Their friendship could become more than that, although Jack may also learn more about Anne’s disappearance from his life. Like previous novels in the series, “Darkest Before Dawn” delves into class barriers and tensions in early 20th century America and the often rigid social mores of the time.

Readers of previous books in the series will likely want to follow Jack, Tom, and the other characters in this new novel. More information is available at trolleydays.net/index.html.

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