I became aware of the poetry of Steve Henn not by accident. In October 2013 we were both asked to participate in the 3rd Annual Long Beach Poetry Festival. Being the investigative prick that I am I went through the list of readers for the event and tried to find their poems online to get a good sense of what they’d be putting me through that day. I already knew what I’d be putting people through that day. There were quite a few poets on the list that struck me. For sure Steve Henn was one of them. There was a biting wit to the sample poems that I read and in the book that I bought, And God Said: Let There Be Evolution!. A willingness to take on everyone from big government to his home state of Indiana down to the people Henn shared a roof with. To say that Steve’s poems are funny simply undersells them. They are riotous at times. Never hurtful or mean but direct and to the point. Poignant too. You know the subject Matter that Henn is going after and revel in how he weaves the words to get down to it. Take this poem from Henn’s 2011 book Unacknowledged Legislations:
Have You Ever Been to Walmart?
Oh, man! Have you ever
been to Walmart and really looked around
at all those people? Simians everywhere.
Cro-Magnons. Half-men half-monkeys.
Cave women with no light in their eyes.
I can’t figure out if people go to Walmart
because they’re stupid, or if they become
stupid because they go to Walmart. I’m in there
½ hour ago picking up toe nail clippers,
a garden hose, the latest Rascal Flats CD,
an XL T-shirt with a Bugs Bunny University logo,
and a wheel of Sam’s Choice liverwurst—you know,
regular Walmart stuff—and I’m waiting
to check out, and it’s like I have this cosmic
brain reaction to where I can see everybody’s IQ
shimmering above their heads like tongues of flame,
and most of ‘em are like 72, 74, 63…
and then I have this total paranoid hallucination
that since I came in the sliding doors the Rapture
had begun, only Jesus is this complete intellectual elitist
with meaningless PhDs in Transubstantiation
and Creationist Evolution and Middle Eastern Surrealist Literature,
and all the intelligent people have—poof! you know, gone
above, and somehow I got Left Behind ™
with some presidential Antichrist poised to lead an army
of nimrods into genocide of the remaining intelligentsia
so I’ve got this total intellectual inferiority complex
compounded by the fact that some perverted form of Christianity
is making the Universe go ‘round, and then I realize
that I let my medication lapse over a week ago
so I beeline to the pharmacy, begging God
all the while to make my heart stop beating
before downing in a sea of idiots
like the antihero of a ‘70s sci-fi movie
starring Charlton Heston as Satan’s right hand man.
See what I mean? Now if you don’t feel like that every time you step inside a Walmart you need to have a deep conversation with yourself.
Half of the joy in the poetry of Steve Henn is seeing him perform it. I got that pleasure at the Long Beach Poetry Festival, and thanks to the release of Mastering The Monotone: Live Readings by Steve Henn, you too can have the pleasure of seeing and hearing Mr. Henn read his poems to an audience. Clocking in at just under an hour this DVD is a primer for the clever, bold, dare I say, acerbic genius, of Steve Henn. Through 20 jam packed poems done in a neon-drenched club atmosphere us viewers are taken along with Henn as he hilariously goes after everyone from the religious, to big pharmacy conglomerates, to the government, to Bob Dylan and his good buddy Nate White. Not to sound redundant but Steve Henn is funny. And funny works for me with poetry. There isn't enough humor in poetry. It’s sort of my bread and butter. And it works for Steve Henn too.
But above the humor and above the audience’s laughter there exists a melancholy, existential, self-flagellating vibe. A sadness if you will. That yin-yang of conflicting emotions adds to the depth and overall point that Steve Henn is trying to make with his poetry. And what is that? Well, its poetry and poetry is subjective. For me reading Steve Henn, and now being able to view him read his poems in this great DVD, is that of being stuck in America, in the heartland, in jobs and marriages and relationships that take such a delicate balance of self one can go mad. But instead of doing that why not have a laugh, and try to get through life without it becoming such a heavy weight.
Everything on Mastering The Montone is great. It’s essential Steve Henn For me the stand out poems as read are: I’m From Indiana, The Truth About Gun Violence, I am a Poet (Henn’s admitted favorite poem), What I’d Hope I’d Say to Any of My Wife’s Friends Who Offered to Do Me, Letter to a Student, When I Peed Myself at the Bob Dylan Show, and Royal Rumble: Gay Pride Parade and Klan Demonstration.
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