Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Tom Carey's Desire

I'm not exactly sure where I read about Tom Carey's Desire. I'm a big list-maker and an inveterate jotter, specifically in the pages of my trusty At-A-Glance appointment book, where I know nothing escapes my scrutiny for long. If it's worth remembering, pondering, vetting, analyzing, dissecting, it winds up there. Those items that do are ritually moved to later pages if not dealt with in a timely fashion, and as I'm transitioning from an elder planner to a neophyte edition, I make one final pass of the former's pages, just in case something fell through the proverbial cracks. Cary's book found its way into my At-A-Glance, and after some shuffling and juggling, I finally got myself a copy.

Carey is a native left-coaster – specifically, a southern Californian – who grew up in the shadow of Hollywood. IMDB only lists one screen credit, but his bio notes a role as well in Day of the Locust (one of the best book-to-screen adaptions ever), which is apt because of its poison pen attitude toward Tinseltown. He studied acting seriously, and seems to have continued with it after a move to New York in the late '70s. However, in 1988, he became a Franciscan brother in the Society of St. Francis, a religious order in the Episcopal Church – “men who live under vows of poverty, chastity and obedience,” according to their web site. It continues, “In addition to the work of prayer, most of the Brothers are engaged in work outside the friary.” Indeed.

Desire bears the subtitle, Poems: 1986-1996. Does Carey write or, more specifically, publish anymore? The book is ten-plus years old, and the only other publication credit I can find is as co-editor of James Schuyler's Collected Poems (Desire is dedicated to Schuyler); a poem about Joe Brainard appeared in Jacket, in 2002. That's it, based on a cursory search. It's not the selected work of a longstanding writer; Desire instead seems to be a compendium of poems written during a decade, including some overlap with Carey's entry into the Franciscan order.

Carey ain't no Thomas Merton. He's obviously influenced by the New York School, and writes in a cosmopolitan, chatty, yet often world-weary style about people and places in bohemian New York; his poetry isn't universal, but it also doesn't feel hermetic, like the worst graduates from that particular alma mater. Unlike the NY poets, though, many of Carey's poems are confessional, written by a mind on the cusp of being both gay man and religious acolyte. He doesn't appear to be torn about the religiosity, in fact relishes the rituals of his chosen vocation. But it's an unusual blend, to say the least, these poems of longing and lust, death and dying, life and living.

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