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Home > Research > Book Reviews > Review of Living at the Movies by Gerard Malanga

Traveling & Living

Review of Living at the Movies

Note: Malanga reviews both Carroll's Living at the Movies and Daniel Halpern's Traveling on Credit. I am including only the review of Carroll's book. --Webmaster

The great thing about the work of a genuine poet is the atmosphere which it creates in the mind of the reader. This is as difficult to define as it is impossible to miss. It has a great deal to do with the technique and with style, but only in so far as they are an integral part of the feeling and thinking that go to make up a poet's work. But it is as equally difficult to fail to realize it, when a writer turns out to be a genuine poet. Jim Carroll at twenty-five is a genuine poet just as surely as Rod McKuen and Rod Taylor are not. In reading Jim Carroll's first full-length book of poems Living at the Movies it is quite evident to me that he fully understands the nature of poetry because he perceives and follows the nature of his own life, and with that recognition of his nature, he is able to write about it.

Mr. Carroll's poems are populated with people he has loved and crowded with those who love him. His poems are irrigated by friends, by his own kind and consanguinuity. He is original without being unique. His technique, however, is in advance of his maturity. At times he is capable of spoiling a good poem by a precious or very sentimental line or phrase, like "and our life is that rusted bottle . . .pointing north," in The Distances, but never of trying to make one out of any emotion that is not an integral part of his own deep feeling.

The poems seem roughly to group themselves into "general" poems, usually longer, where a subject is viewed from many different angels and states of consciousness, and the "specific," whre something is seen whole in a flash as in A Fragment:

When I see a rabbit
Crushed by a moving van
I have dreams of maniac computers
pertinent to our lives
In them the vision is so strong that there is no craftiness and the medium of poetry gives way to an idea that can't wait for doctoring-up to be born a flawless declarative sentence. That fast kind of poetry is always the best kind of writing. I think it's spiritual without being churchy as some of the longer poems seem.

Literature is not a competition. Yet Jim Carroll will invariably be compared by some critics both with some of his contemporaries and with their predecessor Frank O'Hara. Carroll's poems are not so perfect as O'Hara's not is his vision so intense. While there's nothing extremely deep in the experimental and phenomenological sense, his range is wider than O'Hara's: his feelings not deeper, but made general, as in Silver Mirrors:

A horse moves
this weekend
into our living room

he says, "Oh, quickly
form a ring around me
as to prevent the merciless
insane hounds form attacking
my weekened legs in attempt
to drag me back to the icy
palace in the wintry regions."

"Then you are the one they sent?"

"yes"

"Very clever, did you bring it?"

"yes"
There is not one awkward word or tacky locution disturbing the exquisite poise and flow. I'm reluctant to quote specific lines because when the poems are best they make such complete sense that to quote excerpts merely cheapens the effect.

On the whole Jim Carroll has the sure confidence of a true artist, meaning he is confident about the right things. He is steeped in his craft. He has worked as only a man of inspiration is capable of working, and his presence has added great dignity to the generation of poets of the 'seventies to which he belongs. His beginning is a triumph.

   

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