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Home > Research > Book Reviews > Review of Fear of Dreaming by Merry Fortune

Review of Fear of Dreaming

Fear of Dreaming: The Selected Poems of Jim Carroll

Long before I knew you, I knew something was wrong with you. First there is me. My roots. My stoop. My friends. My eyes, my hands, my mouth, my brain, my body, my sense of direction, my energy etc. My passages and transformations. My possibilities. My obsessions.

It seems, at times, I have designed
too well this vision of you.
I cannot survive your eyes
when they are scarred with a need
for some lesser form of love.
Ouch. When I first discovered Jim Carroll's work, I considered Jim Carroll to be one of the most exciting human beings I had never come across. What I like about Jim Carroll's work is me. Lewis Warsh showed me one of his photo albums which contained a few photos of Jim. I read a book titled Nice to See you and I see poets on the streets of the East Village and they are buying food, walking dogs, arguing, making up and making love, writing, hustling for readings, work, survival, and we say hi to each other. These things, sometimes, are easy to forget. I'm just as scared as anybody else. And I'm just as much a hero.

One night Jim was reading at the [St. Mark's Poetry] Project with Eileen Myles and I asked him if he would grant me an interview for my magazine. He was writing my phone number. My area-code-first delivery caused a minor crisis and I took the blue pen from him, wondered whom it belonged to, and continued to write the number with the area code in its proper place on the back of a long white envelope. He stuck it into a pile of papers in his bag. I told him he was going to lose the envelope. "Believe me, I am not going to lose this envelope," was the reply. Despite the slightly acrid tone in Jim's voice, I considered feeling flattered for a minute but then realized the envelope probably contained his paycheck. O.k. So the feeling of excitement was not quite mutual. So the artist is not quite as accessible as I imagined. Maybe the separation of art and artist is sometimes needed, as well as convenient.

Take what I give, not what I'm saying [sic].
Hollywood and New York stars. In my 1970s Fitzgerald and Hemingway offered me a well-written glimpse, a voyeuristic hands-off peep and critically acclaimed sniff of how the other half lives. I was born on my knees; my mother was on her back. Modern survival includes many copartments. To renew you need some new clothes and a vacation. For fast instant removal, TV is necessary. Vicarious anything for the immobile masses. Aspiration, accumulation, and delusions of objectivity are part of our indoctrination.

For this generation,
infected with too many antidotes,
there must be a balcony, a height
where one may be lifted up
beyond the timorous grip of glamour,
of glory without rage, . . .
If I had a definitive complaint about Jim's work it would be that he seems at times prone to deliberately obscure his extreme existence behind the beauty of his well-chosen words. But the words are seamless and clear, confessional in their clarity. And perhaps hte translation of a life into art is the only thing an artist given to excess can do to heal.

I challenge you to restore
a reckless elegance in place of
The vapors you breathe of hubris and boring . . .
to commit to sleep in a painless chamber
The tedious pets of your cradled syringes.
I can't reckon the violent images to be a matter of pure craft, though there is that. The intelligence is not a facade, not a mater of surface. There are no clumsy literary acrobatics, no laborious density or failed contrivances, the relentless card-catalogue files of words and textures commonly used to explore passion and violence.

Its color is violet, like lips
that have been smashed by night
or robbed of blood by lack of breath.
Still, the element of mostly honesty is what moves me. Although even at the height of my obsession, I did not imagine Jim's work to be a total picture.

Fear of dreaming/living. Have no fear. All is inevitable. The poem, and everything else, is always about you.

Fear of Dreaming contains Living at the Movies, Jim's first book of poetry (79) poems); the delicately surreal Book of Nods (34 story dream visions); "New York City Variations" (a manifesto?); Poems 1973-1985 (41 poems); and New Work 1989-1993 (2 stories, 13 poems).



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