I’m always scolding Ed for not stepping into the front ranks of American poets, where he belongs, till finally I realize that A. it’s not up to him and B. he’s already there. I could praise his plain speech, his tenderness and loyalty, his incredible memory, his creation of poetic world to draw sustenance from, his devotion to the local, his deep and ancient values, disguised as rebellion and satire, but I want to praise the mystery that is at the heart of his poems, how he can create beauty out of violence, waste and bad rhetoric we are all surrounded by, not unlike the farmers of New Jersey who planted their tomatoes in the raw sewage being disgorged from the giant pipes where the Giants now play football; the best tomatoes his Uncle Frank ate. He has a love of complexity but he dislikes confusion and obscurity. Finally, he’s a poet—and there are very few of them—who brings wisdom to his work. I want to praise in particular “Myer Country Motel,” “Hambone,” “Ancient Music,” “Hi Gertrude,” “September Rain,” and “For Britt.” This is an amazing book.
How often do you read a book of poetry that is first and foremost enjoyable? Ed Ochester opens Sugar Run Road by praising Pittsburgh’s deep grammar and inner mystery (a chuckle in itself) and ends with his wife “feeding sparrows/ in winter which God doesn’t do too well.” In between, as a practical Romantic, he romps through rich anecdotes and meditations on poets and poetry, family, American history, work, war, Bach and Mozart, Hemingway and the Emperor Nero, and much more. Ochester’s love of the art of poetry, married to his love of the common material world, gives birth to serious fun and wisdom. I’m so happy to have this book.
In poems that summon the “deep grammar and inner mystery / of your own, your native land,” Ed Ochester revels in the democratic slurry of Doc Williams diction and grouses with Frank O Hara’s rhythmic assurance to remind us I d needed reminding of what it means to be an American writer. No other recent book of poetry has given me as much pleasure in its humor, its rage, and its innate eccentricity.