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Rumors of Fallible Gods
by Peter Ludwin
Reviewed by: Ed Bennett
There are poets whose work creates a world different from our current reality. It may be with fantasy or with a skewed vision of our surroundings. Others look deep and long at the world with a laser like precision teasing out the inequities in the human condition and exposing them for all of us to evaluate. Peter Ludwin belongs to the latter group of poets and his latest work, “Rumors of Fallible Gods” travels worldwide examining the experiences of the people who trade their aches and calluses for their daily meager portion of bread.
Mr. Ludwin casts a large net, both in distance and time from Latin America to Europe to the Far East. The one unifying theme to all of these poems is the dignity of common people. He writes with obvious affection for the under classes and the persecuted with an eloquence pervading both the narrative as well as the speech of the characters in each poem. This contrasts to the sometimes bludgeoning effect of poets who write “social justice” poetry whose primary purpose is to castigate. Mr. Ludwin’s work is more like an informal instruction into the lives of the characters. In “Canonized” he follows the story of Jesus Malverde, a Robin Hood type bandit executed early in the last century.
“They hanged you in 1909, a thief
the common people said stole
from the rich and gave to the poor
or so the story goes…”
From “people’s bandit” of yesteryear to a revered legend today, especially among the narcotraficantes, Malverde’s stature has grown to saint-like proportions among the people of Sinaloa, Mexico. The poem ends with the question
“But who could compete with a patron saint
of drug traffickers named Jesus?
And not just Jesus, but Jesus Evil Green?”
There is no condemnation of either the peasants who misguidedly pray to this “saint” nor of the people he represents. Instead, the questions hang heavily: who can compete with a savior loaded in narco-cash? Money is all and we are the worse for it. The reference to Evil Green Jesus from the lyrics of the metal group Anvil gives this century old legend a contemporary venue as well as hints at Mr. Ludwin’s folk rock past.
The book is divided into two parts, the first being set in Latin America and the second in Europe and the Far East. Each of these segments is a tour de force of the culture and history of the area. Mr. Ludwin transitions easily from the Mexican desert to ancient Greece to the horrors of Terezienstat . The poems contain allusions to pagan, Judaeo-Christian and Buddhist culture that pervades the lives of each character. His imagery can be subtle yet is strong enough to set a scene of urban striving or foreshadow an impending horror. In “June 4, 1989: Tienanmen” he opens with:
“The moon hangs in the gibbets,
twisting on brittle threads of silk.”
The action of this poem begins shortly before the tanks rumble into the square yet each line adds to the suspense of the finality of tanks rolling against unarmed protesters.
His poem “Pogrom” recounts the persecution of Jews in Russia with the repetitive use of the word “came”. As the poem proceeds to its end the word is repeated more frequently, painting a picture of pounding hoof beats and terror moving closer and closer until finally:
“came to harvest
came as wind to erase
reeking of smoke
of sweat and rank leather
There are no polysyllabic pyrotechnics in these poems, just direct observation of the status quo. Each poem is a story, as one would expect but each story leads us further on a journey into the human condition as the poet sees it. This is less a book of tales as it is a journey accompanied by a poet with a discerning eye and the ability to allow us to feel the joys and travails of people who are removed from us, yet not very different from us.
Peter Ludwin has written a book that examines the underside of human nature. He examines, questions and witnesses society’s failings with an even voice and recognition of the humanity in all of us despite our failings. In this time of raucous debate and name calling his message, though bound to our bloody history, is a paean of hope. While politicians might send drones to respond to terrorism or write off 47% of the electorate Mr. Ludwin is a sane voice in a less than sane world.
I have never before used the term “haunting” to describe a book of poetry. Peter Ludwin has written such a book and I would recommend it to anyone looking for an honest appraisal of these early years of our nascent century. This is not a book one reads for distraction; it forces one to think long and deeply about the events around us. That alone is worth the price of the book – the fine poetry is a real bonus.
2001- 2013, Quill & Parchment
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