I met poet Sean Thomas Dougherty back in 1996 when he featured for Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Laura Boss at a Barnes and Noble somewhere near Paterson, New Jersey. Back then I was still working the 12 to 8 shift in a mold making plant. I had not slept well that day, perhaps two hours and some change, and the reading was a thirty mile drive from my apartment. Putting those two factors together, it made sense to stay home and get a couple hours snooze time. Fortunately, reason has never run rough shod over intuition, and something about the name Sean Thomas Dougherty compelled me to forget my sleep deprivation, the thirty mile drive, and the 8 hour shift I was due to punch in on. If you’ve ever worked in a mold base factory, you’ll notice hardly any of the men or women are unscathed. Mangled fingers, slipped disks, an occasional amputation are the rule. Being tired around 3 ton steel, around cutting and grinding machines that eat such steel can be conducive to the loss of body parts. I thought: “so what?” I made the drive.
I’m glad I did. Sean Thomas Dougherty was both a solid poet and performer of poetry. The two are not always one. Some poets, some very good poets go out of their way to make sure they don’t “perform.” God forbid! People might mistake them for entertainers! Personally I always thought a poet ought to risk being mistaken for being an entertainer rather than for being a cadaver who can read (though I must admit it might be interesting to hear a corpse recite poetry). Sean did not ham it up, or oversell the poems. He didn’t have to. I knew by his references, by his metaphors, and sound that he had read a great deal of poetry, that he had a far roaming yet accurate ear, and that these poems I was hearing out loud would deepen rather than disappear when I brought the book back with me to the mold making plant and read them at lunch break. I was right again. I wore his book out, and have had the luck to be his friend for 15 years. We have never lived closer than three hundred miles, and so most of the friendship has been conducted through phone calls, an occasional feature, and long face book threads where Sean spins great punk songs from around the world, and is very expansive in his definition of what constitutes punk . Expansive is the right word for everything he does.
The poem below is taken from his latest, and I think best book, Sandra Sings the Laundry on the Line (BOA editions). Sean reconciles a lot of conflicting registers and references in his poems—hip hop and punk with Lorca, working class narratives with language theory, whatever “defective means” as Williams said will suffice to make the poem live both on and off the page. I have chosen a love poem which has Sean muting his trumpet and blowing soft, yet as Dorianne Laux writes of Sean, this is “the gyspy punk heart of American poetry.” Gypsies can play ballads, too.
Our Love as an Origami Crane
Kiss me as Bjork sings the discordant swoon-light,
Searchlights ghost across our bodies banks.
Ankle to hand, the illusionists we’ve become
tongues struck to the dark wind.
Pin the mute flywheel you feel,
peel back your raiment. Bjork cracks sound,
Rounds vowels we open in
yielding a harvest beyond despair --
Repair, nothing we bear shall ever harden into