If each one of Anthony Liccione’s poems could create an actual, human presence, and if you could keep all of these strange, fascinating characters in one place, the result would be something like touring an insane asylum with enough madness to bring the walls down again and again. These walls stay up though, and Liccione is the best tour guide we could ask for through two of his intuitive, challenging poetry collections, Please Pass Me, the Blood & Butter and Parched and Colorless. The books differ in minor things like binding, font and length (Parched and Colorless can probably be read in less than an hour, but that’s certainly not a negative), but make no mistake that they are from the same steady, sincere and brutal voice. The most important accomplishment of these collections when taken as a whole is that they reveal Liccione as a veteran observer of his surroundings. The range of those observations is potentially limitless.
Neither book is superior to the other. Please Pass Me, the Blood & Butter is a bit longer than Parched and Colorless, but both possess images and narratives that can knock you out of your chair every single time. Both show Liccione’s ability to break bones on the first line or stanza. It doesn’t get much better than the opening to “Blood from Stones”, from Please Pass Me, the Blood & Butter:
Sometimes I find myself in the middle
of struggle, the war of believing in right
when wrong is around prevailing-
sometimes I want to spoon
the sperm of father from out
the womb of mother,
It may not get much better than that, but in this case that only means that many of the others are just as good. An awful lot of them have the tenacity and candor to grab your ears and eyes for your attention, as soon as they begin to mumble or scream. There isn’t a lot of throat-clearing or uncertainty in pieces like “The Unleashed Song”, “A Leap of Faith” (with some of the best word play and style in the whole bunch) or “Washer Machine Gun.” These are poems that speak immediately and with intimidating clarity. They go after the senses with no thought of looking back or slowing down. Liccione has lived every one of these stories, and that’s what many of them, brilliantly-told stories, and he doesn’t make this known to the point of posturing. He’s smart and skilled enough as a writer to stand back, and let the poems succeed relentlessly as portraits of the streets, the unknown and the infinite. All set in verse.
That’s not to say something like “Spoon and Fork”, with its bizarre visuals and off-kilter, appealing humor, or “One Morning, Snowflakes Fell”, a piece all at once haunting and gentle, are not products of Liccione’s personality. It’s just that Liccione is a writer who knows when to be a protagonist in his poems. And when to stand back and let something as rich as “The Castaway Carnival” take us to the psychic cleaners. Another thing both books have in common is that the more we read of them, the more we want to read because we are constantly left to wonder where Liccione is going to move us to next.
Neither of these books is for passive readers. It’s worth mentioning that now, but it’s also something you’ll pick up quickly, no matter which of these books you happen to start with. You’ll figure out at the first poem that Liccione is going to dictate every step of the way, and every scene you visit. Good writing does this. Better writing also gives you the chance to take from its words your own view of what you’ve just read. There is miles worth of interpretation to be found here. It will have you considering those views, and any personal memories the poems bring about, for a long time afterwards. Anthony Liccione’s writing is capable of all of this, and it’s all the better because he’s not deliberately setting out to accomplish it. He’s too busy writing. Anything besides that is just a natural, welcomed offshoot.