Monday, May 29, 2023

portraits of red and gray: memoir poems by James C. Morehead - Review

I was a teenager in the 80s. I was 14 years old when the 17 year old James embarked on his school trip to the USSR. I can't even imagine traveling to Russia at the height of the Cold War. I remember spending a lot of time in the 80s fearing nuclear war. James' poem, portraits of red and gray, detailing his visit is wonderful. His descriptions of the conditions there are vivid and heartbreaking. I can see why multiple readers of his poems wanted to read this one in its entirety. It is beautiful.

I had to laugh at Four Summers in Florida (82-83-84-85) because he really captured what we GenXers are always saying...


I spent my teenage summers working in Florida, living alone, programming computers. That forty years ago, when parents let their sons fly two thousand miles south, from Toronto to Florida, to live alone, and program computers all summer.

I was fifteen and couldn't drive, so I brought a hand-me-down bike with saddlebags for carrying groceries. That was forty years ago when parents let their sons live alone, without a car, two thousand miles away. At least my parents did, I can't speak for other parents.

...our parents really didn't care what we did back then. I could tell some stories of my own, I kid you not.

This collection is a must-read. I learned so much about a person and a life in these lines, verses, and prose. The final poem, lost (and found) just gets getting older, our forgetfulness, and that slow (but is it slow?) march to the end.

these things we lose track of
a puzzle piece clinging to a sweaty forearm
an unpaid bill the anniversary card bought last week
a ring of keys all tucked away too safely

i worry most of all about the pages
ripped from a daily calendar on my desk
then crumpled and thrown away
one day closer to a final tear

See what I mean? Again, a must-read.

About the book:
Take an unforgettable journey from the Cold War USSR to Savery, Wyoming, from the mountains of Tuscany to the peak of Yosemite’s Half Dome, from the Canadian wilderness to the beaches of Normandy. James Morehead’s (Poet Laureate – Dublin, California) acclaimed collection is built around a series of memoir poems that takes readers into pre-perestroika Soviet Union through the eyes of a teenager, from Moscow to Tbilisi to Leningrad (and many stops in-between). The striking cover, designed by Zoe Norvell, is based on a 1982 lithograph by Igor Prilutsky.

Advance Praise:
“In this second collection of poems, James Morehead’s imagery is vivid, spare and elemental, and it is consistently chosen and arranged to achieve intensely poetic effects. The rhythmic control is impeccable. The centerpiece of this collection, a long series of poems that chronicle a trip through the former Soviet Union, is a fast moving, impressionistic feast of imagery. Sunglasses, denim shirts, vodka debauches, dollars, rubles, steely-eyed Russian authorities ever on the lookout for forbidden deals – all of it is transparent and engaging.” – Carmine Di Biase, Distinguished Professor of English, Emeritus – Jacksonville State University

“In portraits of red and gray by James C. Morehead we travel with him through boyhood and manhood: camping with his dad, working in his high school years far away from home every summer, his time as a teen in Russia traveling during spring break with his school. The vulnerability and humanity expressed in these poems is moving. Morehead writes, ‘…I had to wait / for my tears to dry before dropping in quarters to call home.’” – Angie Trudell Vasquez, Author and Madison, WI, Poet Laureate

About the Poet:
James Morehead is Poet Laureate of Dublin, CA. portraits of red and gray is his second collection, and he hosts the Viewless Wings Poetry Podcast. James’ poem “tethered” was transformed into an award-winning animated short film, “gallery” was set to music for baritone and piano, and his poems have appeared in numerous publications. He is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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