by Jeffrey Ethan Lee
When I first read Patrick Lawler’s 2009 interview with Paul B. Roth in The Bitter Oleander Volume 15, No. 1, it was like a prose poem at an adagio tempo, but it was also like a memoir. It was pointed, profound, wry and artful moreso than any other interview I had ever read. It grew more fascinating because it was like discovering the author’s notes toward an autobiography, and these notes showed that many of his greatest poems, especially those about his father, were more literally autobiographical than I would have ever imagined. And with these illuminating notes, his poems became far more compelling.
Soon I felt it would do a great service for the poems and the interview to gather them into a book. In the light of the interview, the poems became like a memoir made of poems. Meanwhile, the interview was so poetic that it was like prose poetry made by following the rules of memoir. So this book has evolved as a kind of a poetic autobiography about growing up underground, literally, with a father whose repressed traumas shaped a whole family. That underground life reminds one of what Auden once said of Yeats, “Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.” One is also reminded of Sharon Olds’ insightful, wise, and sympathetic portrayals of her father, which inspired Patrick Lawler’s work for decades. This book shows one way that a son honestly and ultimately accepts a father, even with all of his torments, and becomes a man. It is a remarkable dual portrait of a son and a father that also shows the longterm consequences of wars, especially the unexpected sufferings caused by wars.
In the end, one increasingly admires the author who finds the courage to transform his compassion for a father into ever greater levels of insight. Including many notes of irony, humor, and even hope, the poems and the prose resound with astonishing wisdom and vision.
But before this book could go anywhere, I had to share this idea with the author, whom I had gotten to know after editing and publishing Feeding the Fear of the Earth in 2006. He ultimately agreed that this was a worthwhile project after I put together a few of the poems in this book with some excerpts of the interview. So many thanks are due to Patrick Lawler and Paul B. Roth, and many others who have granted their permissions. Without all of their help, this book would never have been possible.