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Allfier, Jeffrey. Before the Troubadour Exits. Kindred Spirit Press, 2010. ISBN: 0-943795-39-7 (paper) $10.00 [Do order, please, directly from the press: Kindred Spirit Press, 522 E. South Ave., St. John, KS 67576]



Jeffrey Alfier is one of a number of fine poets who test the notion that “poets know from a tender age that they simply MUST write poetry.”  A life lived fully makes as fine a preparation for the reflective nature of much very fine poetry as does having had the desire to write poetry from an early age. 

Before the Troubadour Exits, Alfier's new chapbook of 23 pages of poetry, is just the right size for this collection of noir poems that are populated with, as W.D. Ehrhart says, “losers, has-beens, never-weres, no-hopers, dead-enders, over-the-hillers, and last-leggers; ambition, achievement, and happiness left behind….”  My good friend Will Hochman describes the book as being “distilled from the liquor of lust and the smoke of a tough guy’s best efforts to grasp and pass on life lines tossed to lost souls.”

These poems, predominantly narrative, remind us of Spillane and Chandler, echo the dark nuances of Chinatown, are removed from the delicacy of the personal, sometimes self-indulgent, lyrics that populate many of our literary reviews:

Girls in this place faked a need for you then,
cunning as whores in old detective tales
extorting harm.  Certain but uncaring,
their storied lies stack up like catacombs.
. . .
What wasn’t cruel was taken for error.
Listen.  Little has changed but barstool pads—
drunks and losers, common as pepper grass,
dusty shadows replenishing themselves.

Ultimately, though, the book returns to its core, to soldiers returning from war and finding a wasteland of bars and hookers, I am speaking metaphorically, as I think Alfier is, back home.  Take the poem called “A Baghdad Sniper Dreams Himself Home” as an example:

After the Sweetheart Dance, still in his full
dress blues, he would bring her to his uncle’s
bar, and there take the wine from her hand,
finish it at the same spot on the glass
where she’d tilted it past her lips, lead them
to the dance floor at the first slow song,
then back to a smoky corner where the pulse
between her thighs meets his vector of hope,
wet fingers moving in warm hunger,
that first glisten not enough to save him.

The poem is strong, powerful, a dream of something beyond what war has to offer, what a sniper dreams of, a dream of home, of some form of innocence, of relationships beyond barter…and all “not enough”—dark reality waits.  In “The Seawall” Alfier completes what was started in “A Baghdad Sniper…”:  But this is where we end long after proms, /  your senior class ring thrown back in your face, / a degrading slap stinging like spindrift // while buddies conned their way beneath bra straps / of homecoming queens who’d never look back….  A life lived looking back on a life beginning and the underpinnings of faux innocence.

Before the Troubadour Exits is a fine chapbook, filled with experience, filled not just with losers, but with a wry form of dark sensibility, an awareness of the shadows that underlie much of contemporary society and that, yes, can be lit up with love and warmth in spite of everything:

…no, we’d laughed
at time wandered stones that rolled like breakers
under our feet, watched laddering gulls commit
shellfish to rocks as I took the mercy I needed
and found in your hand woven in mine, the light
singing as we memorized its ballad, the same light
that let a lone fisherman stand supplicant to the sea.

Highly recommended!