Review: Trumpets in the Sky by Jerry Garcia
Trumpets in the Sky by Jerry Garcia comes back again and again to the wonder of the world when you are focused on the sky. In the preface, he tells us that he has always been fascinated by “things in the sky” (12), which was also the early working title of this collection. It’s a strong metaphor because it seems to give the poet the perspective so that he sees himself, his life, and his problems as part of a greater whole.
Where some poets focus on their pain, he is able to see wonder is so many things, and part of what makes Trumpets in the Sky powerful is that he is able to focus on the magic of the world in the way that Kerouac, Snider, or Whitman were so often able to do. However, Garcia, whose dog is named Japhy, after Kerouac’s depiction of Snider in Dharma Bums, does not need to retreat to rural areas to find it. He is aware that nature is spectacular in the sky around him, and that awareness keeps him centered and grounded.
It is not as though Garcia’s narrator is oblivious to everyday frustrations and pains; it’s just that he has found a way to rise above them. The world can get to anyone, as he shows in “Espresso”:
Cell phone compounds aggravation
with ex-wife’s grumble.
Inside the carpark,
status is marked by location.
I disembark, my coffee
cold and bitter. (31)
These moments of human pain are necessary for his exploration of the sublime that he finds in his fascination with all things in the air. For example in “Starling’s Triumphant flight,” he writes,
for silver blue light.
Flowering fragrance heartens.
of this new day
brings lift to
The narrator is aware that this bird is not native to this area, and that much is going on in the world, but he is able to lose himself in the wild beauty of the bird’s flight. In “Singing Half-Songs by the Sea,” he writes,
Heron gulls stagger
through gusts and garbage
in clouds almost green
like uncut peridot. (53)
The heron gulls struggle and strength seems to give him strength. His knowledge of them seems to give him perspective. They ennoble and strengthen him.
Running through the collection as well is his knowledge of other artists, poets, and musicians, many of whom have gained the same kind of power through an awareness of the sky. There are references to John Keats, Joni Mitchell, and William Butler Yeats. He is a poet who seems alive with the culture around him. He uses a quotation from John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” as an epigraph for “Starling’s Triumphant Flight,” and the poem itself helps to structure his work. Much of his work is done in reaction to other people’s lyrics or poetry. That work resonates with his work, and adds beauty for those who understand the references. When I didn’t know them, I was not, however, lost.
From the little I know of Jerry Garcia personally, he has seen much and lived well. He is one of those intelligent people who come through life and can see it for what it is and can find the beauty within it. This beauty and wisdom are at the center of his collection, and they inform how he sees. I went away from it more aware, more alive.