Introduction to Messages: New and Selected Poems, 1969-1989

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Written by
Norman Mailer

After months of working a lot, I had to work very hard for the last few weeks, and my body landed finally in the same place as my spirit — gridlock. My legs cramped when I stood up to walk. This came to an end about five days ago, and I have been trying to relax ever since. I’ve been drinking and going out with good people, but it’s not been coming around all that well. After a day of catching up with correspondence (which, after months of writing, feels like ditch-digging), I picked up this collection by my old friend Luke Breit, started pretty much on page one, and read most of the poems. Now a couple of hours later, my inner traffic is beginning to move forward again. Luke Breit is Doctor Breit, Traffic Consultant for locked-up synapses and totally fucked-up grace. Reading his poems proved one hell of an unexpected benefit. While I knew he was good, nay, very good, since he has surprised me before by how good he is, nonetheless I had never read so many of his poems at once, and to my surprise, I think they’ve done what poetry is supposed to do, and even used to do until the last forty or fifty years of Western Civ began to ruin everything that curved or sagged or dripped or blew or offered you subtle shadow. Poetry used to put a little wine in your lungs with a fresh breath, and just so, I felt a little bit alive once more after reading Messages.

Years ago, I wrote a blurb for Words The Air Speaks which went like this:

I think Luke Breit succeeds in writing with a fine edge right into tendrils of change. No one does more with a mist, or the quiet desperation o f a root, no young poet I know is so successfully and consistently tender without ever embarrassing the reader. Luke Breit celebrates emergence from gloom — what a nice feat. What skill in the simplicity.

If Breit knows how to take us out of gloom, it is because he understands sorrow, particularly a lover’s sorrow. He catches that place where paranoia is so sensuous it can ameliorate anguish before it has to increase it. Listen to these lines from “Things to Believe In”:

Evenings she doesn’t come are few but empty.
The furniture of the house belongs to her,
comes alive when she calls it
by name. Nights when her life
is lost in other forests, fires here
go out, blankets are tossed by no one
to the floor. The dogs believe all night
the river is her car and rip the dark with howls.

I don’t want to curse him with too much praise, but I think he is in the act of becoming one of the best romantic poets we’ve got. Which may not be as large a compliment as one suspects. How many yuppies, still worming their way along the neon floor of cancer gulch, are still romantic? Or is the compliment larger than one suspects? Perhaps. His metaphors dance and take you turns you were not prepared for, and to your conservative consternation enjoy, because change, for once, is liberation:

In the darkness before dawn,
with the trees shaking their drenched leaves
above the roof in an erratic splatter
of sound, I move, transparent and ghostly,
through the house. Half asleep,
I am still thin with dreaming.
Light has not yet come to fill out this form,
to soak it pound by pound in the visible world,
to cover It with leaves of the real.

In boxing, there are subterranean dreams of being knocked down by blows so artfully delivered that they pound nothing out of you. The fall is free. You wake up refreshed. Breit can put three or four perceptions together in a row that have something like that effect. Some crusty old dead-ass sorrow in oneself is rejuvenated. Luke is a rainmaker. Put him in a desert, get him to recite, and clouds will gather.

In your bed, you feel
how death has plumped the pillow
and made the light bulb flutter
as if it was a candle.
You will not die tonight,
but it is closer than before.
And it is good to listen many times
to the world. It has sounds you can take
into the long silence.

If I could be a poet, I wouldn’t mind at all being as good as Luke Breit.

Norman Mailer
Brooklyn, NY
July 1989