Brendan Constantine. Calamity Joe. Pasadena, CA. 2012. 109 pages. $17.95 ISBN 13978-1-59709-176-3
Calamity Joe, the kaleidoscopic soup that is the most recent collection of LA-based Brendan Constantine’s work, is, to put it frankly, a work of beauty. It is a walk that traverses the so-called “Legend of Joe”, a funky disgruntled man who works in a failed lab-rat research facility and holds Socratic dialogues with himself and a variety of macabre characters, such as a nine-fingered girl. This book is creepy, kinesthetic, outlandish, surreal, and downright funny – in an ironic, self-referential way – beginning with the very title of the first section:
“What is done out of love lies beyond good and evil.”
“Friedrich Nietzsche was stupid and abnormal.”
This is a book of psychological warfare and chained beauty, calamities in hilarity, matched with down-to-earth honesty that emerges from the most inconspicuous landscapes. From conversations with God to celebratory search parties, Joe, the collection’s main character, is confused and befuddled by his personal crises. In the second section, the first thing that he cares to tell his audience is about how when he joined a search party, he “dressed all wrong” and that “there was no cake”. A peculiar man, indeed! I cried out, left in a spot between tears and laughter, the bridge over normalcy laced with bouts of sadness.
Calamity Joe is the kind of book that you could read for eternity and still be caught off guard by. Even as your mind settles into familiarity with the quip-y and poignant language, it is still a master fencer, dancing with its rapier like a maddened Cossack. One of my favorite pages I held in my lap for at least an hour while driving through the Mojave Desert, watching the Kern County mini-metropolises bounce around in stagnation over the dusted plains, entitled “Nobody’s daddy but my own”. The poem is a collection of Craigslist listings, with the usual sense of bizarre-ness and pizazz that the book trademarks from its first pages:
“Want to watch TV? Me – 96 5’10”/interested in soup, lawn chairs, love./ You – ageless, faceless, unnamed”
Alternative and awkward, entertaining and deep-sinking. I caught the eyes of a road urchin while reading the poem in the back of a car – a sunburned man with wispy electrified hair and sapphire blue eyes smoking a cigarette while sitting on an ATV (the epitome of sketchy skeez-ball) – and I thought that perhaps he would be the perfect mate for Joe’s Craigslist finds. For Joe and my roadside attraction, however, the spicy babushka is too far away, and so they are doomed to loneliness and petrification.
Calamity Joe is quirky, clever, and just past the level of standard comprehension. Reading it is a worthy tour through the mind of a breathtakingly beautiful poet, and it sticks and jams itself into an unknown, and yet not entirely unfamiliar, niche of even the most cultured of poetic brains. Constantine is a wily son-of-a-gun – and if you can, you should buy his book.