Alcatraz, the first winner of the Verna Emery Poetry
Competition, was selected as the best of 500 manuscripts submitted to the
Purdue University Press in 1991. The collection begins with "Bay
Cruise," a reminiscence of the author's boat tour of San Francisco Bay on
the eve of his induction physical in 1966, and ends with "Memorial,"
an account of the author's visit, in 1989, during free time on a job interview
at the Kent State Campus, of the monument to the martyred students. In these poems, as in many of those that come between them,
history mingles with personal history, what happened to the world with what
happened to the author. The inherent danger of such a vision is that it can
lead to solipsism - to a greater concern with personal and annoyance than with
public tragedy - but the author fights that tendency.
In "Little World," for example, he discovers, on a snowy
day, cozy in his tiny apartment, that the little blow-up globe he's suspended
in front of his window displays funny mistakes in spelling and geography - "Shrereport"
for Shreveport, Chicago out of place, cities in Texas mixed up - but his
initial delight at the prospect of going over the whole mixed-up, made-in-Honk
Kong globe turns grim when he imagines the sweatshop child laborers who made
those mistakes. Similarly his chagrin at having to cool his heels in the
hallway while interviewers for the college teaching job (which he's flown
across the country at his own expense to seek) laugh and joke in their luxury
suite with their first-choice candidate is transformed into a much wider
perspective on envy and misery with his encounter with desperate, homeless
people on the street outside. In poem after poem in this collection, the big
world impinges on the little world, forcing the author - self-involved, anxious
"not to get involved" - to look up from his shoe tops, and say, as honestly as
he can, what he sees.