Danny Shot’s WORKS Works
He retired, didn't quit his day job, one of the first second third generation immigrant youth pining for space, for more road, aspirations for a better life, "making it in America." The promised land, New Jersey, Springsteen, Patti Smith, WC Williams, Ginsberg, Eliot Katz & Jack Wiler, myriads more, all legends, where the ordinary is extra and the Average is Whitman's Divine Average.
From approximately 1981 to 2004, Danny Shot was publisher and tie-breaking editor at the rad & renegade, Beat & eloquent multi-cultural literary magazine, Long Shot, America's greatest literary magazine.
Shot's WORKS is accessible; ambiguity is not its aim. It has a frank and intense passion to explain and deal with the life and death that happens around us all. Shot makes me feel that it matters, what we do and say and feel. He doesn't just present a soul, a voice; he presents a person, a poet man.
The first poem How to Write the Great Jersey Poem is not only loaded with innovative humor but also is spot-on advice, a real blue print, many of Walt Whitman's poems are outlines, how-to’s for himself and others, so too Shot. Mr. Shot was a high school English teacher for thirty plus years and his work is a solid example of the adage: show, not tell. This is definitely a victory for clarity over over-weaned purple passages: "Go sparingly on the adjectives/and adverbs, the grammar/of New Jersey is built/on nouns and verbs/ Description unbecoming."
Yet WORKS is resplendent with unique precise heart felt descriptive imagery: "Mourn the suicides and overdoses/ of friends and lovers/who ventured to the City/ with over sized dreams/Record your melancholy/ as the casket rests in the/ ripped green grass…” or “blaring salsa street festivals/ Memorial parades with hobbled/ veterans and fire-trucks,/ inebriated St. Patrick’s bar crawls/ feasts for saints, brass bands snaking/ through streets with statues/carried on ancient Italian shoulders..."
Initially, in the work Give Us Back Our Town, Shot testifies to his love for his home but he is also a devout critic, he can spot the charlatans and ambitious liars: "You revalue our homes/ so old timers pay more/ and Wall Streeters pay less/ and you call it equitable." But who can blame anyone when the pie is there for the taking and it will be taken and it will be called inevitable, progress, fate, American? "Hoboken our home forever for sale."
Very few poets invoke a reaction from me like mine after reading CARS. Right away I wanted to write about all my cars and their stories. In each, Work remains a piece of heart or juice that relives & exonerates, the coming of age... His verse stimulates my memory of feeling the optimistic energy of youth on pilgrimage to man hood.
For a man to succeed materially in this place and time, it has become a game of satisfying the will of the ineffable invisible Merican corporate capitalist Stalin. One has to figure out and give what big money wants. Shot does not succumb to being what the tides of economics politics societal values literary vogues want him to be.
WORKS has five chapters, roman numerals on a brick wall at the onset of each. He is both hilarious & scary profound. Examples from Shot Family Values, a list of 21 adages passed through generations of Shots: " # 16. Religion is the last refuge of the damned, # 10. Don't get your pussy where you/ get your paycheck/ (I once heard my father advise a young coworker), #2. Don't ask for much/and you won't be disappointed, #18. Listen with your eyes."
And though we may find pathos and even bathos in WORKS like in The Grandeur of Willie, a tale of a diminutive Jewish-American soldier: "Patton's army marched behind/Willie's hook nose and 5-foot frame" at the head of the marching conquering Yanks: “for bloodshot German eyes/ to see the swarthy face of the conquering Jew." It is an ode of genuine love for the underdog, a glorious triumphant irony, a moment of radiant karma. WORKS is the voice of the underdogs that the moms and pops of the world have become.
My Bad Angel has through the years been a crowd pleaser. He admits the angel has brought him to trouble and worse, like standing on the corner of Trouble & Worse, "My bad angel needled her way/ into angel land/ self-destructing and obstructing/ my emotional merry-go-round." He continues, "My bad angel tried to strangle/ my wife in her sleep." This reminds me of Mayakovsky's line "First of all I like to watch children dying,” a line where context is paramount when considering and parsing the underlying meaning.
The work MOM about the passage of his mom, made me weep. The nobleness in dealing with inevitable sorrow (we're are all going to die) presented resolutely, dutifully, hit my heart. No language for language's sake, a direct honesty the lines doing their job, fulfilling their purpose recording the birth-death cycle, how he handled, kept his spirit & head to do what he had to do, including writing it down.
4,000 Jews Can't Be Wrong is addressed to Amiri Baraka, who Shot was friends with. He published Amiri, went to his home, admired his work. But Baraka had to be addressed for asserting that "Jews" were conspiratorially in on making 9/11 happen. Amiri's New Jersey poet laureate honor had just been rescinded because of this ridiculous assertion.
Shot writes, "I don't believe in a poet laureate/ or a hierarchy of poets set up/ by any government or arts institution/ any more than I believe the manufactured/ emotional competition of the slam/ brings out the best in poets or/ that random ramblings of language/ poetry brings about revolutionary change/ to the way we see or be or/ that self inflicted bondage/ and discipline of formalistic verse/ offers insight towards our humanity..." Furthermore, "I am feeling squeezed from the left/ of course squeezed from the right/ like an empty tooth paste tube/ my politics squeezed into being a Jew." Reading this poem, I see connection from this work to Tom Paine's Age of Reason. (Just because you believe it, doesn't mean I have to).
Even if he never wrote another line, I aver Shot has fulfilled the prophecies of Whitman, Mayakovsky, and Ginsberg. He's part of the generations that served as the subject of revolutionary poetry but now have evolved into the writers, the poets. A family man, a schoolteacher, a good guy to have a drink with, blessed with the eyes of a Buddha, and the conviction of the voice crying in the wilderness. WORKS Works.
You know back round 1960 in Oakland CA "work" was slang for sex. We'd lean out the window of our cars and growl, "werrrrk!" at an attractive girl on the sidewalk (we were stupid). Also my first bar beer 17, Co-existence Bagel Shop Bar, North Beach Ess Eff, a black man, who I later found out was the great Bob Kaufman, stood on a table and read a poem whose only words were work repeated at least 20 times. WORKS worked.
There are pieces that put Occam's Razor to problems & issues of the "post-modern" life. My Money explains the driving force of the economics of 21st Century USA. Last Man Standing is a Song of Myself.
The title of the work, At Baraka's House, made me expect a political statement, a defining of goals & methods. Instead it's a chuckle-grin-head-shaking confession of human frailty. Whitman: "The frailest leaves of me and yet my strongest lasting, / Here I shade and hide my thoughts, I myself do not expose them, /And yet they expose me more than all my other poems." I laughed aloud at the ending, a common predicament in my youth reciting like a mantra in my mind, sometimes even sounding, trying to defuse an embarrassing soon to be public erection: "immortality/ revolution /immortality/revolution /baseball/poetry..."goes Shot. Similarly I used to repeat, "Yankee Stadium, Yankee Stadium" attempting to delay my arrival.
The last work, Invitation to Walt is a pep talk, a rallying cry invoking courage to save & honor what's beautiful & workable in Merican life and to confront and change what does not work. O yes, I should also mention, Eliot Katz who Shot, addresses in Letter to Eliot, wrote an excellent foreword and the Work dealing with Latino culture in NYC are outstanding.
Given the chance, it is work like these WORKS that will bring poetry to a position of relevance and useful popularity.