Jack G. Bowman's Unnatural Fire
Unnatural Fire by Jack Bowman is an eclectic book of poetry that explores love, the strange and quirky human condition, and the more prurient side of manhood through an alter ego. Bowman works as a psychotherapist intern, and while his job provides with him a certain amount of professional distance, when he assumes his role as a poet he quickly sheds his expertise to impart to his readers an immediate sense of melancholy that is not soon forgotten.
It's obvious that Bowman wears his heart on his sleeve, although not in the way some men do when they wax for a woman they desire but will never pursue. His romantic/love poems are infused with a sensual, tactile yearning, which makes them a pleasure to read, because they are not overdone. He pays true homage to the opposite sex, as illustrated in the poem "Red Velvet Touch:"
presses her hand
waves of emotion
of silky skin on silky skin
red velvet scarves
swirls of pressing flesh
soft, then louder echoes
moans, sighs, laughter
tilts head with slight embarrassment
as if those in the room were reading her
as if she were transparent
she moves away without words
the moment, feel of her fingers,
Here Bowman leads the reader swiftly through the poem; the reader follows in the wake of the unknown woman, and then - for almost a brief second - becomes that woman. This is one of the highest compliments a man - or a poet - can offer back to a woman: the beautious dignity of herself, even under awkward circumstances.
Being versed in the peculiar makeup of the human animal as Bowman is provides him with a goldmine of observations to chronicle. More than a few scenarios deal with not-so-subtle moments of failure and embarrassment, but these vignettes are tempered with compassion, as in the poem "Parade of Fashion:"
A young woman adjusts her skirt
thin fabric, filmy, short, split up the sides
then floats with the breeze
exposes her legs to the population
as she walks
woman glance, tell her... how "cute"
men stare, salivate
hoping she has dressed
for their personal arousal
also hope, she comes back by
for a second look
She is "elsewhere"
simply attempting the surface of fashion
unaware of the true effect she has,
or of the forces in the background
that limited her choices
in the first place.
Bowman has deftly, and with an economy of words, described the shameful behavior of the reactions of both sexes to the young woman, but then steps back to reveal that she is not to be viewed as an object of scorn, but as someone in need of sympathy.
My favorite poems in Unnatural Fire are the "Frank" poems; a series scattered throughout the book that explores a man's darker legitimate side. "Frank" expresses his satisfaction for life in the moment in the poem "High Beams On," and amusement at the capacity for another's off-color expression in "Waiting for Al Green." He achieves more honesty with his internal dialogue, particularly in regard to his penchant for subjects (strippers, Internet porn, etc.) which the more traditional (read prudish) male would never admit to indulging in the light of day. The Frank poems actually deal with subjects that a huge segment of society consider to be pedestrian, but the truth exposed in this series is what redeems it; as in the poem (my personal favorite) "Frank's Fetish Factory:"
Years without intimacy drive Frank
to worlds outside reality
paid women, work in bizarre garb, leather, lipstick
stockings Jello and mud
think of it as... "just a job"
"pays the rent" and tuition
for school, single parenthood, drugs
they are, at times, digital actresses
on monitors in front of stroking me
Frank knows this,
but pretends for awhile
as his fantasies, become more exotic
mind snared in the world wide web
his newest fetish
pregnant lesbians in pantyhose
waits for the next download that will send him
over the edge...
There is nothing unnatural about Unnatural Fire. I am glad to see one poet in the L.A. community utilize both his healing and his poetic gifts by creating a volume of poetry that uncovers new ground in those places where most don't want to travel back to - but at some point must... I suggest bringing along Bowman's book as a guide.
(Unnatural Fire, Jack G. Bowman, copyright 2005 Stoker Creek Press, 225 pages, $12.42, ISBN 1-4116-3743)