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The Stopping of Sorrow by Max Benavidez (Momentum: $5.95, paperback; 74 pp.)

February 23, 1986|Kenneth Funsten | Funsten is a poet and a free-lance editor. and

The first 35 pages of this book of poetry almost seem a waste of paper, though perhaps necessary to tell the poet's whole "story." In short, that story seems to be that emotional alienation can lead to some half-illuminations. But even in the last 35 pages of the book, Max Benavidez's poetry seems awfully pedestrian.

He often confesses disgust for his own writing. And for himself and the rest of the world by extension. It may be part of the "story," but it is not very becoming as reading:

How I dread and desire the impulse

that makes me write.

Why am I in love this way?

Why do I love the poet's holy office?

And why of all whys

is the door always shut in my face?

Titles too often tell us exactly what to expect from a poem: "Self-Portrait on a Cracked Mirror" and "In a Room With No One," for example.

Benavidez tries to use the city and land as metaphors, yet even the poem titled "Los Angeles" is about some sort of personal defeat: "City of Angels, / ghost of my emotions / stranded / on an off-ramp, / in a car / abandoned/ with no engine."

Compared with Art Cuelho Jr.'s anthologies of San Joaquin Valley farm workers or even Marine Robert Warden's descriptions of Southwestern Pueblos, Benavidez falls short in exposing any geographical essence. Other local poets, such as Holly Prado, Kate Braverman, Laurel Ann Bogen and even Bill Mohr, editor of "Poetry Loves Poetry," an anthology of L.A. poets published also by Momentum, have all presented us more vivid pictures of Los Angeles.

But perhaps the key to my complaint against Benavidez's poetry, and certainly the style and predispositions it represents, can best be isolated in his book's title, "The Stopping of Sorrow."

As poets and poetry readers, we have become frantic over what is not, what is no more. Whether it be talking stones or true selves, we chase the old around as if it were our mandatory future. Nostalgia has become the mass sorrow. If poetry is to be read and enjoyed again, we must begin to delineate not what was but what should be, no longer a hell of regret like Benavidez would show us, but the possible shape of the heaven to be. Hope.

The most maddening thing to me about Benavidez's kind of poetry is how pathetically true it is about itself: "I am in exile from myself. Silent to my lover and the world. And I write as though my fingers are broken, too awkward for subtlety."

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