For those of you familiar with the Los Angeles poetry scene of the 1980’s and 90’s, Michael Lane Bruner is probably best known as a performance poet with pioneering touring groups like The Lost Tribe and The Carma Bums and as far as those just a little bit younger, the children of the blogosphere, he may be completely new to you.
I was recently asked for my thoughts on Bruner’s newly minted collection from S.A. Griffin’s Rose of Sharon Press Natural Geographics and so here goes.
All too often I come into a collection with certain expectations, and while I was somewhat familiar Bruner’s work via the Carma Bums anthology Twisted Cadillac: A spoken Word Odyssey, (Sacred Beverage Press, 1996), as well as his contribution to the much beloved anthology The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, which Griffin Co-Edited with Alan Kaufman, (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1999), the experience I came away with is not necessarily what I thought it might be when I first turned the page.
A mixture of abstraction and poetic metaphor, combined at times with highly personal memories and an ear for metaphysical questioning, Natural Geographics is hardly a high energy performance, instead what Bruner offers the reader, for the most part, is a thoughtful exploration on the question why by examining nature, human and otherwise and his search for the answer in the every day.
While I think I would’ve preferred a more personal narrative on a whole, there are poems here that do offer more answers than questions, more light than shadow into the author himself, such as Mother Is Young and Emergency Room Rainstorm.
Perhaps there is more risk involved in asking the questions, rather than what got us there in terms of our own personal history, instead looking at the impact of civilization on its citizens. Perhaps Bruner sums up what the book is all about in his poem The Hard Truth Gets Carried-
“Strangely nothing personal
what with cremation
no trace at all.”
Maybe in time there will be no trace of anything we’ve built, both in and outside of our minds, until then I suspect that Michael Lane Bruner will keep asking the questions that have gotten him this far.
If I had to recommend this book to a particular readership, I would say that it belongs with books like On The Road, for younger readers still trying to put together the puzzle pieces of what it all means somewhere out there in the greater universe, rather than those looking for truth in their own story or a strait forward narrative that they can relate to in a dirt under their fingernails sorta way. The book took me back to High School, when everything seemed exciting, or at least mildly interesting, before the internet when the world still seemed larger than your average television screen and the Earth still had more regrets than I did.
So while Bruner and I may not be at the same place creatively, I’m glad that he hasn’t lost his sense of wonder, and if you still count the stars at night, and they still whisper the invisible secrets of ancient lands past, present, and future, his voice is a strong one and whether this book is a reexamination of the author’s work or a fleeting first glance into the cosmos of his brain, Natural Geographics questions may contain the answers you’ve been searching for all along. You’ll just have to read it to find out.
Michael Lane Bruner
Rose of Sharon Press, 2014.
Editor: S.A. Griffin
Printer: Bill Roberts
Paperbacks in letterpress printed dust jacket are $20 and signed hardcovers are $50 postage included. Please send check/money order to the author at: PO Box 1215 Tucker, GA 30085.