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Chasing Saturday Night
Poems About Rural Wisconsin

By: Michael Kriesel 23 Poems / 39 Pages / $10
Marsh River Editions M233 Marsh Road Marshfield, WI 54449
ISBN: 0-9772768-0-5

Review By: Charles P. Ries

Let me cut to the chase for all you poetry review skimmers out there. (You know
who you are.) Chasing Saturday Night by Michael Kriesel is one of the best books
of poetry I have ever read. Go out and buy it right now.

It is great because, like every seminal work of poetry, it is thematically rich, technically
strong,readable, surprising, insightful and entertaining. Michael Kriesel drills for
mean- ing in the middle of no-where-Wisconsin and produces a truly remarkable
work of art.

I asked Kriesel when he started writing, and how the hell he got so good at just 44
years of age. “I started writing poetry at 16," he said. "It was an outlet for my emotional
distress, and I was blessed with not one but two teachers who spent hours every week
with me outside of class, critiquing my poems. And there was a small zine that started
in my home town in '78, at the same time, and the editor &I became good friends. A
classic example of when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. The zine was
Jump River Review, edited by Mark Bruner.”

I commented about the thematic richness found in Chasing Saturday Night with its
subtle and economic use of words. Kriesel said, “Perhaps some of the thematic depth
you mention results from the highly charged nature of some of the images used. For
the last 7 or 8 years I've been studying a number of esoteric systems, part of which has
involved working with symbols, archtypes-- studying the myths they sprang from, the
purpose they serve in our collective unconscious, how we construct our own personal
mythologies, creative visualization, striving towards psychological unity & self-balance.
Things bleed through. Then you get that economy of words with revision. Tons.
Each poem's at least 5 hours, often up to 20. In 2 or 3 hour work sessions each
morning. With much strong coffee, a formica table, & a picture window, an easy chair.”

Kriesel writes like the owner of a crystal shop must walk – with gentle, alert attention.

Here is one example of such a poem, “Drinking with Your Ghost After the Funeral”:
“Sitting in a pickup in the middle of a field / the engine ticking down to nothing /
windows filled with rows / of corn stalking into shadow / I drink until you’re sitting
next to me / though we both know / you’re really at the cemetery / what was left of
you after the accident concealed / by oak and bronze and varnish and miraculously
healed / in everybody’s memory / still the whiskey / lurches back and forth between
us in the muddy / light until the bottle’s dry / and dark as that smoked glass / we
used to watch eclipses through/ though tonight / there’s just a wobbly moon /
and a few raccoons / stealing corn like no one’s there.” His work walks poetry’s
razor’s edge again and again, and never falls into maudlin soup on one side or
excessive cleverness on the other. He is masterfully aware of the place he is
creating. I noted the often fragile, forlorn and wry quality to this collection.
How did he acquire this quality? He responded: “Harsh experiences I've had: from
growing up with an abusive, alcoholic dad; from my decade in the Navy's paranoid
environment, from my own tour of duty as someone who drank too damn much on a
regular basis. Plus it's a common reaction to the way the world often is.
Especially in the arts, where intelligent, emotionally hurting people often go
to heal themselves.” What is marvelous about poets well-schooled in form and
word is their ability to take the personal and turn it into a universal. Kriesel
excels at this. His poems are as well calibrated as the best poems I have ever

Reading Chasing Saturday Night I could have extracted stanzas that describe
place with such economy and beauty, it would have been quite enough for me
just to read these stanzas alone. Such as these lines from, “Grampa’s Old Place”:
“tar paper shines across the yellow wheat / the basswood siding’s gone
// so soft your thumbnail could mark it / but it soaked up paint like sunshine."
Or this one from “Communion”: “ It’s cool / the way a basement is in August /
dark except for one small window / floating high above us / like in church / the
bottom half cut off by grass // the only other light’s a bulb / tiny as a child’s
night-light / mounted on a grinding wheel/ bolted to a workbench.” Or
this from “Saturday Morning”: “while between the fresh air and the sun / part of
me starts to doze / my body grows light as sawdust / far away a chain- saw
buzzes / like the season’s first mosquito."

I asked Kriesel about place. He said, “A friend recently told me, 'Everybody
lives someplace and the work should show it. Homeless poetry doesn't interest
me.' I got a good chuckle from that. All poetry is regional poetry, to some degree.
Chasing Saturday Night is set in rural Wisconsin, peopled with relatives & farmers.
But the poems deal with universal human themes since humans are the same
everywhere at their core, despite differences in customs, education. I've also been
writing minimalist nature poems for several years. Which have a long tradition in
the Far East. And in even these, place plays an important role. Seeping through
in an image or two. You see, we live in the world, much as some poets would
deny this. Genius loci. The spirit of the place we live in fills us. People in rural
environments know this intimately, living it each day. Their urban counterparts
exist at a further remove from this. I grew up in rural central Wisconsin. Have
always been more sensitive to my natural environment, sometimes preferring
trees to people. That's changing as I grow more social. Also as a teen I loved
the long descriptive paragraphs in H.P. Lovecraft's weird fiction. Setting really
sets the mood, personification of an aura or emotion, again that genius loci that
that makes puppets of the players sometimes, other times just coloring our

He does not use punctuation and this only serves to accentuate the clarity of
these poems. Nothing weighs them or holds them to the page – not even
a comma. When asked about this lack of punctuation, he said, "I started doing
this in '97 when I started writing short bursts of image-based spiritual poems
that were trying to convey the epiphanies, the insights and break- throughs I
was having as a result of meditation & other disciplines. It was hard trying to
verbalize these abstractions, ideas of a basically often nonverbal nature; so
stripping things down, purifying the language seemed a good idea and did
help. Now, later on down the line, it keeps my lines clean, pared. I'm writing
longer narrative pieces without punctuation, and to do that you have to write
clearly, clean.”

Retrospection collides with place in Chasing Saturday Night. We find a man
at middle age looking back. I asked Kriesel about his childhood. “I lived in
my head, and still do, pretty much," he said. "I was bornin 1961 in Wausau,
Wisconsin, a town of 40,000 in the middle of the state's dairyland. My father
worked in pre-fab housing construction, and was afoul-tempered drunk. My
mother was (and is) a saint, with a heart as big as a duck. But this was 1961,
and women weren't independent like today. She was stuck at home with no
job or driver's license. I was an only child until I was 10. My brother's a
trucker. I was quiet and orderly. Read lots. Played by myself. I wasn't happy
or unhappy. I didn't have much for playmates out in the country. But there
were a few friends at school. When I discovered comic books at 12 it opened
a universe for me. It possessed my imagination. If there'd been comic book
teachers in high school instead of English teachers, I'd be drawing & writing
Batman today, instead of versifying.”

Sometimes a “reviewer” falls in love. Sometimes he gets off the fence and
gets swept away into the poems, suspending disbelief and discovering a few hours
later that he’s been Chasing Saturday Night.
Charles P. Ries lives in Milwaukee,Wisconsin. His narrative poems,
short stories, interviews and poetry reviews have appeared in over
one hundred print and electronic publications. He has received three
Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing and most recently he read
his poetry on National Public Radio’s Theme and Variations a program
that is broadcast over seventy NPR affiliates. Ries is also the author
of five books of poetry the most recent entitled, The Last Time. He
was recently appointed to the Poet Laureate Commission for the
State of Wisconsin and he is the poetry editor for Word Riot Book-
store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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