Another Mad Review: Jumpers from the Belfry Tower

by March 8, 2020 0 comments

Jumpers from the Belfry Tower by Ryan Quinn Flanagan

Pski’s Porch (December 19, 2019)
Available at Amazon

Delighted to have just read Ryan Quinn Flanagan’s (RQF’s) Jumpers from the Belfry Tower. And having previously reviewed RQF’s Return to Vegas Poems for Mad Swirl, I feel like I’m becoming a scholar of RQF’s work. Watch out RQF, next I’m writing your biography!

RQF’s poems are always new. He doesn’t do the rinse and repeat thing. As I did for his last review, I again cracked open a beer and pulled out the bong to contemplate the writing in Jumpers from the Belfry Tower.

Often comic, RQF’s poems in this collection are a bit more skeptical of life, more distrusting of humanity. And really, who can blame RQF? Sometimes it feels like trust is just something we settle for.

The universe doesn’t seem to give a flying fuck about us, any of us. We try to manage the tightrope walk of existence; some do it better than others. Every now and then we fall into the abyss and lose ourselves, climbing back onto the tightrope for more disappointment. As we stand tippy-toe on the tightrope, breathing in the air from high atop the ground, it can offer us a view of the world we might have thought unimaginable.

Sometimes we fall and the tightrope can get wrapped around our necks, strangling us to death. It’s all about perspective and circumstance…

And timing.

In his opening poem “Confusion is the Only Form of Communication,” RQF writes:

I like to stand
in the basement
like some hairy mole-thing,
blind in the darkness,
sniffing around
pink-nosed and
and sometimes I like
to climb
into boxes
and pretend that I
come with a manual
written in three

But most of the time
I just like to be misunderstood
and misunderstand
in kind.

The same way
you walk barefoot
through a tiny beam of light
and it makes you
think you blinked
when you

And despite RQF’s assertion that he prefers to be misunderstood, one of the things I like most about his poetry is that I can understand his writing. He makes it look easy. But anyone who’s put pen to paper knows that when your writing reads like it issues forth from your pen effortlessly, it’s a master trick that took years to develop. The great writer is a master magician.

In “Flags,” I am reminded of the sad ugly truth that life very often sucks and is filled with predators and victims, winners and losers. And human beings that consume each other, like insects in a nest.

Much paucity of Being;
failed transmissions and failed lives.
The rice is burnt to the bottom of Asia,
the gadfly is jealous of the maggot
in summer.
And when you look on high
there is nothing to see
but flags:

flags of death
flags for nations
flags instead of clouds

in the tilted wind

This sentiment is all too true. Some people praise the flag at the expense of other human beings. We often lose the spirit of things by sticking to the letter. Some love their country so much they’ll kill people who try to express its core democratic tenets. We’re sick fuckers, humans.

You could say this collection is cynical, that it condemns the universe to blind complicity in the suffering of all beings. That hurricanes, bears, and people are all responsible for the trail of blood they leave in their wake. Despite “the people, the places and the names,” it’s the same shitty story.

Look at the dancing bears
sane as jarred mustard,
see how the cars with vanity plates
weaving from lane to lane
to lane
feel joke store
watch the Spanish
(great galleons
of ego)
cross the Atlantic
in search of chocolate
dip your toes
in the murky shave water
of change-table

And the people and the places and the names
and the desires…

There is a boiling
in the cauldron,
a great building
of verve
and energy
and magma
deep down,

down in the mouth
of the earth
where cavities
and tiny mole-things


And while Jumpers from the Belfry Tower may be cynical, it’s not without humor. In “The Odds of Nothing are Nothing,” RQF writes:

Ever wish
the trapeze artist
would fall?

That the fire eater
would burst
into flames
or the lion tamer
would get
what was coming?

No such luck,

The game
is fixed,
just as it has

When I say cynical, it’s not like this is a bad thing. Anyone who is not a bit cynical in this life is simply naive. Charles Bukowski, John Fante, Charles Dickens, Toni Morrison were all cynical writers. Shit, even the Buddha’s cynicism made him turn inward to develop a coping strategy. Being cynical is wise. Always look over your shoulder. Don’t open your mouth when you don’t know the score. Don’t trust nobody.

As RQF writes in “Fame,”

You don’t want it
to early.

If it comes at all,
let it come

Over an early bird dinner
in South Beach.

Or at the funeral
of a friend
you never really liked

In “The Sky is Blue and Lying,” RQF asserts his manifesto of misery. Sometimes life is watching a homeless drunk vomit “chunks of nothing,” as you wallow in your own misery, desperately trying to hold your own shitty life together. Yes, it’s possible, even expected, to feel sympathy for a homeless drunk. But fuck, sometimes your wife leaves you, your dog dies, you lose your job, and you wind up in the drunk tank. Life can suck for everyone. For anyone. There’s no shortage of shitty to go around. And when life sucks for you, fuck all.

The bum
on the street bench
starts vomiting.

Thick brown chunks
of nothing
into the sidewalk.

It has been a rough night
for us all.

The morning feet
that walk wide around
the bum
have their hair done
dress in the finest
talk compassionately,
but I can see murder
in their eyes
(clear as
duck under the
and wait.

In his inimitable way, RQF sums up a life lived in his work. If you want to read writing that is both real and funny, I urge you to go out and read Jumpers from the Belfry Tower. If you’d rather read only fluffy stuff that tickles until you pee in your pants, I’d suggest reading the funny papers.

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