QUINCY LEHR is the sort of poet in whose favour I am absolutely biased. Lehr does not just know the facts of poetic and political history, he also appears – more than pretty much any other poet I know – to understand them.
The witty, unashamedly intellectual, voice that comes across in Lehr's new book, The Dark Lord of The Tiki Bar, published by Measure Press, makes me picture a man as at home talking about the evolution of the sonnet form over the past five centuries, as he would be debating the likely political consequences of Donald Trump’s ongoing hairstyle. And yet, by some miracle, Lehr’s poems remain absolutely unpretentious. This is perhaps because, being as smart as he actually appears to be, he has no need to pretend.
One of his most striking talents is his ability to use swear words with a style so immaculate even your grandmother would, in the end, have to agree that no other word would be appropriate: “Like blonde girls pray to Jesus, like a boy/soon enough learns to spit/out bullets in a war crime scene/when stranded in the S**t/Heaven is where we thought it was…”
Lehr’s poems are savagely critical of what Gore Vidal used to call The American Empire, most overtly in ‘Blood’, which begins strongly: “Each empire must become itself, a thing/that ruptures like a half-healed wound,/a scab turned into blood again," and ends with a stanza so fitting it made me want to cut it out of Lehr’s book and deposit it permanently in my breast pocket:
“If there is blood, Lord, let it be my own,/and if it must be spilled, then let the cause/be decent, at the least, and not a date/in someone’s narrative that never was,/glory – or a shakedown for a loan./Such is my prayer – I hope it’s not too late.”
Lehr who taught history for a time at NUI Galway, but now resides and teaches in Brooklyn, is, like many tens of thousands others, a now politically homeless refugee of a Marxism that was once very sure of itself.
In the context of the socialist re-awaking that has given us Syriza, Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, and the election of a significant clutch of Marxist candidates to the Dáil in our election, this stanza of Lehr’s seems to me to contain the appropriate amount of scepticism about other people’s grand schemes but to in the end err, quite rightly, on the side of hope.
In ‘Avast!’, which has an epigram from Amiri Baraka “Up against the wall, motherf**cker! This is stick up” - Lehr reveals a past-time beloved of disappointed left wingers of mine and his generations: “We cope through thoughts of vengeance, as the bulk/of suited shoulders, built linebacker thick,/fills the screen…”
Perhaps the most glorious moment of all though, in what must be a breakthrough collection, is ‘The Secret Adventures of Carlos Danger’, in which Quincy Lehr pays tribute to the perfectly named Anthony Wiener, a former Congressman with a penchant for sending pictures of his penis over the internet to young ladies. You must buy this book.