Poems of Madness

by Ray Bremser
(1965)
   This is a collection of long poems that ray bremser wrote in prison and that not only plumb the depths of emotional experience, hence having a blues base, but also entertain with exquisite swinging musicality and both high and low humor. The work can be difficult or free flowing, depending on the reader’s receptiveness. It is a bit akin to listening to a dialect—once the mind hears the words and adjusts to the syntax, it flows like water from the Himalayas. The collection is teeming with anthropological, historical (ancient and recent), geological, biblical, and sociological insight. It is a spew of mellifluous vocabulary of prophetic connotation.
   Poems of Madness are time traveling in the meditative or dream state, similar to Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and Jack London’s The Jacket and Before Adam. All psychological, religious, and philosophical questions that have plagued and amused humanity are being bandied about and answered by the mind of a self-educated young man in a cell, who is living ancient glories, disasters, illuminations, and pains.
   Like Walt Whitman, there are classic admitted contradictions and such oxymorons as “brutalest forgiveness” with its “unauthenticated weight.” You will find description from the primitive “blip blip dreams” to the silken “snow ensmutted wings.”
   Not far into Poems of Madness Bremser declares himself an outlaw. He showcases the desultory, dolorous conditions of his New Jersey upbringing, the sordid bleakness of the underbelly and the underworld, and the unabashed cruelty of the authorities: “Since then I have hated what / passes as law.”
   Then, as in most of Bremser’s work, comes the affirmation, the passion for sex and love: “I would run my cool tongue / in your mouth, eat your tears, taste your difficult / washmachine beauty!” He fantasizes, “Great edible crotch full of hermitage lore / and excusable gloom.”
   He explains how he became incarcerated: “And I took in my hand / in my coat and conjoined / a pistol, in case— / to decide things / best / for myself.”
   His poem “Blues for Bonnie,” like all the poems in the collection, is full of drugs, sex, and the argot of jazz. The “phenomenoes” section of this piece is similar to the Russian Futurian Velimir Khlebnikov’s “Incantation by Laughter.” If a musical key could be ascribed to this blues, it would be flatted or sharped, fit for saxophone. He ends the piece with a long paean to love, love for Bonnie Bremser (brenda frazer). The book includes a short-rant one-page piece about masturbating, “Hanging Like a Baboon From a Tree.”
   In the poem on the opposing page, “Eternity Grinding Allens Great Beyond,” we are made conscious that even though Bremser’s mind is on the outside, he must confront realities, like the yard, the indeterminacy of time, lack of privacy, the horrifying machine shop, and the darkening cell.
   Andy Clausen

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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