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NEAR OCCASIONS OF SIN
By: Louis McKee
Post Office Box 40691
Philadelphia, PA 19107
44 Poems / 79 pages
Review By: CHARLES P .RIES
Louis McKee exemplifies the ‘philosopher poet’. From the title of his latest collection of poetry, Near Occasions of Sin, to the content of his poetry we see a writer who is not just good with word, or good with image, or selective about the moments in time he chooses to inspect, but a poet who is capably uses his well-honed skill with word, image and observation, all elevated by his philosopher’s mind. McKee is rich and textured in his yearning observations, nimble in his rich insights and wise in his conclusions. I felt I was not only being entertained, but learning. I was growing larger because of his clarity and counsel. It is not surprising that McKee has led an examined life as suggested in his poem, “After The Sixth Visit”: “That’s that one / when you lie / back and say no- / thing, everything / having been said / at least five times / already, and she / says well, what / are you thinking / right now? And you / tell her that / you’re thinking you / want to fuck her / and she says why / do you think that / is? but it is / too late, time is / gone, fifty minute / hours, seventy / dollars, and you / know when you leave / that you won’t be / back, you are better / then you have / any right to expect.”
McKee is a man who wants love, who loves love; a man who adores women but has had more then his share of challenges getting them, keeping them, and loving them. He, like all lovers (and writers), is a work in progress. This is illustrated in his poem, “Failed Haiku”: “This evening I took a moment / to indulge a fantasy – you, / walking naked along a Jersey beach, / the sunlight on your lovely ass. / An ancient Japanese master / could work miracles with as much. / I am content with this.” And again from his poem, “The Reason I Write”: “I like to think she gets naked / and looks at herself in the full-length mirror; / as she does, and with a smile, slips /into soft bliss of soapy comfort, / the almost-too-hot water uncomfortable / for just a moment but then just right. / With her wondrous hair pulled up, / she uses it as a pillow, pours a glass / of wine, then picks up a book of poems. / This is the reason they were written. / The rest of you, get your muses where you can. / I write for this woman, naked in a hot bath / under a modesty of bubbles. This is our / moment. Our poem. You find your own.”
As I read this, McKee’s thirteenth collection of poetry, I could not help but think of the late great small press poet Albert Huffstickler (who passed away in 2002) who, like McKee, had the ability to yearn and observe so purposefully. When I read poets of McKee’s or Huffstickler’s emotional depth, I wish they wrote novels. I wish these short, rich, textured scenes and their meaning could be extended 300 more pages. Many poets write well, but few poets give us work as rich and profoundly meaningful as Louis McKee.
Charles P. Ries lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His narrative poems, short stories, interviews and poetry reviews have appeared in over one hundred and sixty print and electronic publications. He has received four Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing, and most recently read his poetry on National Public Radio’s Theme and Variations, a program that is broadcast over seventy NPR affiliates. He is the author of THE FATHERS WE FIND, a novel based on memory. Ries is also the author of five books of poetry — the most recent entitled, The Last Time which was released by The Moon Press in Tucson, Arizona. He is the poetry editor for Word Riot (www.wordriot.org) and Pass Port Journal (www.passportjournal.org). He is on the board of the Woodland Pattern Bookstore (www.woodlandpattern.org) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Most recently he has been appointed to the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission.