RADOMIR LUZA’S TWENTY-FIFTH BOOK, “NEW YORK NADIR” (AuthorHouse, 2014)

 

New York Nadir is Radomir Luza’s twenty-fifth (!) book. Two things, I believe, set it apart from his other efforts: it chronicles marital break-up, mental illness, homelessness, and institutionalization in a journal-like manner; and also the poet recently rediscovered it (as he tells us in a preface) “under a pile of newspapers after it had been long forgotten.” New York Nadir was originally composed “in ten days in the [appropriately named!] Journal Square section of Jersey City, NJ.”  A poetic journal about being down and out, a manuscript forgotten and then dug up years later: the reader is prepared for something rough, confessional, brutal, crammed with brilliance as well as first-draft chaff, and that’s what’s delivered. If this were a polished, meticulously crafted book years in the making, it would not be the honest account of manic depression and outsiderness that it is. Since Luza produced this manuscript in just a few days, it no doubt served as a form of emergency therapy for him. I have done this kind of writing, too, and know how healing it can be.

When I read this collection, I realized (and not for the first time) that Luza is one of the most naturally gifted poets around Los Angeles. Here are some examples of what I mean:

[America], where you and me and every person in their house should take the TV set and ram a dictionary through it.

Then look up imagination. (“America”)

 

The Starbucks on West 6th matters tonight

It slices through the poetry critic in my head like

The birth of death (“Cleveland”)

 

The wooden confidence taker

Has me in its grip

I think

Because its brain is bigger than my heart (“Stage”)

 

The streets shimmer with sweat like housebroken monkeys

The addresses don’t fit the buildings

The toys aren’t big enough for the boys

The traffic light over there way over there

Should be over here (“Mineola”)

 

There was academic poetry in all its cold uncanny warmth

There was jaded you and jaded me

Def Poetry Jam in its television performance mode

Three minutes for half an idol (“Just Do It”)

 

There was no air conditioner at the Al Gore movie

The one about global warming

 

There was no air condition at Gladys’s beating today

Her husband Al wiped himself clean afterwards (“Air Conditioner”)

 

I wonder every night

Why the train passes,

Without stopping,

To help the lost,

 

Why the priests

Give such magnificent homilies,

Then hide in their rectories,

Like mice without a soul. (“Under Oasis”)

And there are many passages like these; I, for one, was in awe of Luza’s intellect. There aren’t many poets who would consider starting a poem with the air conditioner at the Al Gore movie! He’s quirky; he’s spirited; he’s more alive than most of the “academic poets.”

What makes this a great document about manic depression is also what keeps it from being a masterpiece: Luza was not concerned with meticulously editing/sculpting/refining the pieces here. He had a therapeutic goal in mind; his allegiance was to the process of restoring sanity, not to crafting little poems that would please academicians. For instance, he has quite a few lines like these:

[America], Where ecstasy has replaced cocaine as the mature drug.

Where America dons a disguise too ugly for

Halloween and too pure for Christmas. (“America”)

 

Where a truck driver like Elvis Presley changed the world. By not listening to it. (“America”)

 

These lines don’t contain much that is new or interesting, and then suddenly we come across pure brilliance: the next line reads: “Where Jesus speaks every Sunday morning. And is mute the rest of the week.” Yes! This is just great. This book is loud, uneven, inspiring, weird, fun, and touching. Let’s finish with some of Radomir Luza’s own words, the complete short poem “On the Set”:

At dawn the world finally makes some sense

The agonies and compromises of the night no     longer matter

Words sabers

Garnished like razors

Cutting through this moss of misery like pizza

 

Then the night

And sirens

I don’t care if

 

And the night

Covers my head

Bleeding from the wrist

I trip

 

Susan Sarandon breaking my fall.

 

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