Like most writers, I’m hard at work on various projects at once. We always have to be writing. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Ryan Quinn Flanagan (RQF) is one of the hardest working poets I know. I’ll admit, we’re Facebook friends and I have made his acquaintance through the small literary press that has exploded on the scene. And as such, I see RQF’s near daily posts announcing new poems accepted and published in journals and magazines all over the world.
The guy is a poetry engine. It’s not like he’s just pumping out poetry bits. He writes interesting stories and conveys them in unique ways. RFQ is a street philosopher.
He writes about anything and everything. A dude with a ready pen. So, when I saw his book, Return To Vegas Poems, up for review, I knew I was in for a treat. And the independent literary press being what it is, I knew the publisher, too. Alien Buddha Press is daring and inventive, taking on unique and sometimes “out there” work. I should know, they’ve published two of my collections, Freud’s Haberdashery Habits and Hallucinating Huxley. The independent press is very incestuous; it’s like we’re all second cousins, or maybe just brothers and sisters. Ok, that’s a little weird, but possibly true.
To begin with, the title, Return to Vegas Poems, let me know straight-up that I was not going to need tea and crumpets to read this book. Maybe crack a beer. Or get the bong out.
Like The Odyssey, Return to Vegas Poems reads like a journey. At the outset, RFQ took me along on his pilgrimage to Vegas. Vegas, baby.
In “Baggage Claim,” RQF writes:
Twenty-four hours of travel
and they make you stumble
through the terminals.
Watch the slot zombies feed
the machines even at the airport.
In other words, I knew I arrived in Vegas.
But like I said, RFQ can make philosophy out of anything. I’m never lost in these poems. With humor and a straight face, RFQ pulls down the curtain of reality. The obvious thing I never thought of is staring me in the face.
Staying at the Luxor Hotel where he and his wife had gotten married the previous year, RFQ writes about coming back to Vegas.
We have arrived. Back again
with the sleek black cats out front.
A year ago we were here to get married.
Now we are here to unwind. Back at
the sickly-sweet Luxor. That smell we love,
but most would probably hate. That sudden
wave that hits you three feet from the doors. Like
walking into traffic and smiling. My wife grabbing
my hand and squeezing. We are back.
Like the final Rolling Stones tour that keeps happening.
And wheeling our way through the casino floor,
she is lost to lights. There is a long line at check-in
as there always is. And that awful musak you can only
get away with if you are catering to a few million hardcore
gamblers. We try the $20 sandwich trick again
and get upgraded to the West Tower.
And as I’m flung headlong into that brilliantly lit dreary world of Vegas, which boasts equal amounts of heavenly clouds and flames of hellfire, I encounter its denizens. Some are Vegas zombies. Some are just out for a good time. Many people are for sale – in more ways than one. In “Geezers with Tweezers,” I couldn’t help but laugh at the desperate natures of some of the gamblers. They are insane and yet charming in their madness.
A man can only stare at a water fountain so long.
Especially with all those security cameras.
And walking through the slots at the Luxor
I see two old men at an Ellen DeGeneres
machine pulling at their nose hairs with
matching tweezers. Geezers with tweezers,
I think to myself. One hand pulling the arm
of the slot and the other digging for hairs.
I watch one of the men look at his findings
and wipe them over the side of the chair
before beginning again. The other sneezes
something thick and chunky over the machine.
I am waiting for my wife to be done with the
roulette table, but decide I have seen enough.
She is twenty dollars down and cashes out.
The luck is somewhere else tonight.
In his inestimable wisdom, RFQ cracked me up with the hard truth; one guy pulling the slots as another guy picks his nose. I know the world of gamblers. My father was a gambler. Not the run of the mill bet, a few dollars here and there, kind of gambler. But a gamble-holic. The reckless, dangerous kind.
I’ll admit, the Vegas world is not for me. Like RQF wrote at the beginning of his journey, he and his wife love and hate Vegas. Maybe it’s like looking at something so horrible, so grotesque you just can’t look away. You enjoy its ugliness. I’m only speculating. Like almost every friend I’ve made from the independent press world, I’ve never talked to RQF so I really don’t know for sure. But his poem, “Damon Clarke,” offers further insights.
Who has a corporate art monopoly anywhere?
Least of all in a Vegas 5-star?
This Damon Clarke must have pictures.
Caught the CEO of the Bellagio in a honey trap
and squeezed him like orange juice.
For exclusivity rights.
Sent the evidence off to multiple sources
to be realized upon his untimely death.
Made to look like a suicide like all the others.
Leverage. That is the only explanation.
I have seen school children with finger paintings
pasted to the fridge that had just
as much merit.
But this son of a bitch is in every room.
All the halls and bathrooms.
And I have to ask myself, how?
Each time I zip up and walk
into another one of his
Of a grape or an orange.
Or some other stupid fruit
I could have had for breakfast
instead of bacon.
That’s classic RQF. Telling us about the shit that’s right in our face. The minute particulars we miss as we go about our day dreaming.
I have to admit, I really love these poems. They go down like a tasty beer. You don’t have to struggle with them. They are crystal clear and written in a straightforward manner. Great artists, like Baudelaire, or Bukowski, wrote in a way that makes it look easy. Like it just rolled out of the pen. But writers know it takes a lifetime to get all of the junk out of your head. To empty the crap of a good education to write close to the bone. To write something of value and make it look like it just dropped out of your ass while you read the newspaper on the toilet.
In “Leaving a Bad Review,” RQF does just that.
We have transferred hotels.
It is our second day at the Bellagio
and we are sitting by the back pool
drinking tall cans in the shade.
My wife is reading a book about
vampires on her tablet when she gets
a ding on her phone.
It is a message from the Luxor,
where we have just spent the previous
two nights. They have sent her a questionnaire
and ask her to leave a review. She tells them
the toilet was plugged and the sink
had no pressure so that it became
plugged as well and that our neighbors
in the next room and across the hall
kept slamming doors until sunup.
She also tells them about how there was
nowhere to sit with the main pool closed
so that everyone just kept stealing each other’s
chairs and how her husband picked
up this horrible rash from dirty children
that were everywhere. There, it’s sent off, she says, that’s the first
negative review I have ever left anywhere.
She reads it to me and I tell her I’m pretty sure they will not be putting that up on TripAdvisor.
Then I finish my tall can and begin on another.
The fact is I enjoy RQF’s work immensely. His writing makes me smile. He makes me want to write more poems. But when I write poems, they don’t come out as clearly and wonderfully as RQF’s. In “Mirage Security,” not only does RQF sum up Vegas, you might even say that his poem is a snapshot of the human condition. Maybe even the universe itself. I’ll take this train as far as it goes.
We are at The Mirage to catch a show – LOVE:
A Beatles Tribute. We have arrived a few hours
early so the missus can try her luck at the roulette
tables and I can drink free beer. The waitress is almost
seventy and in heels and very good at her job.
You can never accuse The Mirage of discriminatory
hiring practices, I say to my wife, this one might be as
old as the casino. I’m sure she’s seen it all, my wife says,
I bet she has some stories for sure. She is one of those
great women. I wish she was my grandmother, but
don’t tell my wife that. She’s lively and funny as hell,
joking with everyone. Full of spunk. I’m pretty sure
she’ll live to be 200. And there’s this annoying kid
in an electric wheelchair that keeps banging
into everyone. The next time Stephen Hawking
comes by I’m going to lean into that little fucker
and flip the bastard. My wife laughs. Leave the kid
alone and drink your beer. She doesn’t even look
up from the numbers she is playing. A real pro.
And she is up almost $100. Two meatheads in
yellow shirts walk by. On the back it reads:
Mirage Security. That’s ironic, I tell my wife,
Mirage Security so that I don’t believe they
are really there. She shakes her head. She
is deep into the game, so I order another beer
and wait on Paul, John, George, and Ringo.
Do yourself a favor. Read RQF’s Return to Vegas Poems. Read everything that RQF writes. Become his Facebook friend. But if you’re a poet or a writer, proceed with caution. You just may get jealous at the frequency with which this man makes the presses. He’s a poet at work, hammering away at the words that make up our existence. RQF is a poet’s poet.