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Girl Friend & Other Mysteries of Love
by Charles P. Reis
40 poems/59pp/ $11.99
Propaganda Press (Publishing Div. of Alternating Current Arts Coop)

Reviewed by: Ed Bennett
There are probably as many definitions of poetry as there are English teachers and the word itself has even more connotations to every reader. Rarely has it been defined as an act of courage but that is a fairly apt description of Girl Friend & Other Mysteries of Love by Charles P. Reis. This is not a tome to political correctness by any means and there is no posturing for the purity of love found in so many other poems. The book is a collection of well written poetry dedicated to girlfriends, lovers, wives and significant others by a man obviously smitten with the opposite gender. This is not a paternalistic composition; Charles Reis is an unassuming man who writes love poetry with the honesty of a grateful lover.
So why is this an act of courage? In the 2600 years between Sappho and Springsteen, there have been countless love poems written. In the English language, love poetry seemed to reach a high point with Shakespeare, Andrew Marvel and the early works of John Dunne when America was barely an idea. Love in all its permutations was captured in a series of masterpieces by these poets and many others since. Their work is overwhelming and any poet writing a love poem today needs to take care not to use a phrase that has been repeated until it is trite or to create a poem that is derivative. There is too much bad love poetry being written today.
 Charles P. Ries has written a collection of love poems that is a fresh and unique take on this over written subject. He speaks from the male perspective with a candor that is daring. As an example, there are few men who have not been chided by their wife or lover about their “selective deafness”. Mr. Ries sees this as an affirmation of love
“Isn’t it odd how men suffer this deafness?
We stare intently with sympathetic smiles, watching
their lips shower us in sentences half heard.
I’ve noticed that missing so much of what she tells me
has deepened my affection for her.
Is that what they mean by making more out of less?”
(Psst….guys – buy the book, cut this out and put it on the refrigerator. It’s on page 14.)
Mr. Reis’ eye is as precise as his emotional bearing. In “Fly, Fall, Dreaming” he finds himself seated in the Cathedral of San Miguel de Allende and observes:
“A woman dressed in white with a blood-red shawl enters, making signs of the cross so quickly that I think she is swatting at flies or some invisible demon…”
Later, back in the town square he sees
“Two broad bottomed housemaids walk by, wearing uniforms the color of orange sherbet.”
The imagery in this and other poems is bright and gleeful, not the usual moonlight and long shadows that seem to follow modern lovers.
Love sometimes brings sorrow and the poet does not draw back from either the pain or the questions of what these feelings mean. “In Retrospect” deals with the end of a relationship with the same steady voice used to proclaim his love. It is a soliloquy of a man faced with loss and trying to make sense of it.
“It is through the death or absence of things
that I find their value. I take them all for granted
until they are gone.
            Until the cat is dead
            Until my wife has left
            Until I stop wanting.
Is this how men discover their feelings?”
Those of us who remember Ernie Kovacks on early TV probably remember his character Percy Dovetonsils, an effete poet who read love poetry from Shelley and Keats. This was pretty much the image that boys of my generation grew up with and I must say it explains why so many men eschew rhyming words or a well crafted line. Charles Reis is the polar opposite of this image, the anti-Dovetonsils, if you will. There is a joy in his loving, a curiosity about the mechanics of each relationship and an honest ability to see his own shortcomings as well as those shared by our gender.
This is a wonderful book of poetry and should be read by everyone. However, I feel that there is something essential here for any man who can say “I love you” without an ulterior motive or reach across this artificial divide that separates the sexes. Gentlemen, if you have any bit of sensitivity, these poems will strike home; if, on the other hand, you are the kind of guy, as the author describes “Who eat their dinner over the sink”, buy it anyway and use it as a how-to manual. Either way, it’s worth the time.


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