Communiqué: Poems From The Headlines
Reviewed by Michael Escoubas
From the get-go I was attracted to Ed Werstein’s Communiqué: Poems From The
Headlines. First, the volume returns me to my days as a journeyman printer for a
large commercial printing company. These were the days of “hot-metal” or “letter-
press” printing. I spent my days with ink-stained hands, setting type one letter at-
a-time in a special tray called a “stick,” and melting “pigs” for use by linotype ma-
chines. The aroma of graphite still permeates the air of my mind along with the
soft tic, tic, tic of linotype matrices falling into place forming “slugs” that were
then made into pages by the skilled hands of printing craftsmen.
Second and by far the most important feature which attracts me to Communiqué, is
what this unique volume has to say about life in America, past, present and future.
The poems, formatted like newspaper headlines, complete with source-bylines,
speak to where we live. They boldly address ideas and trends that cannot be ig-
nored by thoughtful folk. This is the job of poets, to face life head on, and write
the truth. This is what Werstein does as well as any poet this reviewer has met in
Werstein sets the tone with a quote by recently deceased poet and social activist,
Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021):
“If you would be a poet, write living newspapers. Be a reporter from outer
space, filing dispatches to some supreme managing editor who believes in
full disclosure and has a low tolerance for bullshit.”
As a Ferlinghetti disciple, Werstein showcases a similar “low tolerance.” Where
the poet stands on the issues is never in doubt. As a reviewer, I found myself paus-
ing (as thoughtful folk should) to exercise my right to agree or to disagree. Quite
often, I suspended judgment pending additional study.
Like the newspapers we encounter each day, Werstein’s volume is divided into
sections which include National and Local News, International News, Weather,
Sports, Business, Politics, a special section entitled: The War Report, Science,
Religion, and Obituaries.
To offer a flavor of both format and content, I reprint in full, “Dear Emmett”:
Woman Linked to 1955 Emmet Till Murder
Tells Historian Her Claims Were False
—New York Times, January 27, 2017
You’re dead, your mother is dead, Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam,
The men who murdered you and were acquitted, are dead.
The investigation was officially closed long ago. “Bow thy head
O state of Mississippi, Let tears of shame course down thy cheek,”
wrote Langston Hughes at that time. And there is still so much hate
in Mississippi. They had to re-make your memorial in 2019.
It’s bulletproof now.
Emmett, only the woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham, who accused you
of ogling and whistling, is still alive. Now, with death approaching,
she wants to recant her testimony, to unburden her troubled soul.
I wish she had a soul. I wish there were a
hell for that soul to suffer in.
Your hell, Emmett, was here on Earth. Is justice
60 years late any justice at all?
Emmett, you’re still gone. Is America any
Different than on the day you died?
This poem, and many others of similar power, reached me … I found myself
troubled, truly troubled with this haunting question. I’m still troubled.
From International News, “Teaching Women How to Fly,” uses an NPR story
about a 1911 garment factory fire in New York City, to call out the treachery of
the wealthy and privileged. Real issues about working conditions and care for the
safety of workers cry out for attention even today.
“Flag Football,” leads off the Sports Section, by offering a sober reflection about
NFL players taking the knee of protest during the national anthem. This action
brought out the consternation of the Trump administration. They were …
Simply kneeling, to call attention to an injustice
suffered by others, and to call attention to the fact
that they saw this as an American problem.
The poem goes on to develop the chasm between Trump’s nationalism and the
reasoning behind what the players intended to convey.
On style, Werstein is a studied craftsman, writing primarily in free verse, but using
other forms, or inventing his own, for greatest impact on his audience. “May 4,” is
a must read, prose poem which revisits the tragic Kent State University shootings
of 1970. This tragic event claimed the lives of four innocent students during the
height of the Viet Nam war protests. This reviewer cannot ignore, the poet’s in-
sights about the war, and hold a clear conscious.
No fewer than four Villanelle’s are sprinkled throughout the volume. This util-
itarian form lends itself to the touch of sarcasm which wends its way through
much of Werstein’s poetry. “Change of Seasons,” is about an injury to famed
Green Bay Packer’s QB, Aaron Rodgers, would that his replacement be a Rod-
ger’s clone! “Do Not Go Gentle Off That Overbooked Flight,” not only channels
Dylan Thomas’ classic poem on death, but shines an embarrassing spotlight on
how a passenger was treated by employees on an overbooked United flight.
As I worked my way through Werstein’s headline news, I asked myself, “Is there
any topic, any issue in American life that this poet DOES NOT HAVE an opinion
on?” I couldn’t think of any. That is precisely why Communiqué: Poems From
The Headlines, belongs on your bookshelf and in your hands. Don’t delay, order
your copy today.