The Poetry of 1AK, CAConrad on Frank Sherlock & Brett Evans

Ready-To-Eat Individual
by Frank Sherlock & Brett Evans


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Book Review by CAConrad

Shamanism has the distinction in many ancient cultures as being the practice of Great Seers and healers. Shaman were those men and women who survived near death experiences or other tragic circumstances and came back with stories and visions from the abyss which in turn served the tribe. Surviving shifts the axis, remaps perspective, and awakens the senses as though they had never really been awake.

After hurricane Katrina devastated the much loved and celebrated city of New Orleans the city itself seemed near death before our eyes, and her citizens found themselves abused and neglected by their American superpower federal government, which shocked the world to see people left to suffer and die of exposure, and see African Americans seeking refuge in nearby towns held at gunpoint by white police officers to prevent them from leaving the connecting bridges to safety. Our modern day American race and class war was silent no more to those who had willed themselves into denial. Even president Bush’s own rich white mother made clear her contempt and complete lack of empathy for the suffering thousands who lost family, friends, homes and communities. No demon’s mask remained.

But like all Shaman, the city and many of her survivors took the brutal obstacles back to life, and some of that Olympic spiritual conquest is sung at perfect pitch in Ready-to-Eat Individual by poets Frank Sherlock and Brett Evans. A native of New Orleans, Evans stayed behind during the storm to protect his dogs and help friends. PhillySound poet Frank Sherlock went down to work with the activist collective Common Ground in the recovery work. Good friends for many years, Sherlock and Evans wrote this disturbing and BRILLIANT book during what they refer to as 1AK: Year One After Katrina. The book’s title is based on the laminated food pouches produced by the Defense Department with the same name. Ready-to-Eat Individuals were originally designed by the Space Program for astronauts, but were dropped on New Orleans after the storm and resulting flood.

         The post-apocalyptic mufaletta
         resembling a comeback city
         is seasoned w/ graffiti
         on abandoned refrigerators

These opening lines set the tone the title promises. 2008 New Orleans travel guide books make no mention of hurricane Katrina, nor the struggle the citizens of New Orleans continue to face. The best martinis and what kind of furniture to expect in your deluxe suite will be mentioned, but in order to discover what landmarks were destroyed by the storm you need to compare your 2008 guide with a 2005 edition and figure it out for yourself. To read the truth of pain and resurrection you will need to bring Ready-to-Eat Individual with you on the plane.

         & he said it best when he said
         I’ve learned there is Life
           even in the darkest of dark
           places I dance
          to escape from pacing

And later on the same page:

         at any moment it feels like this space
         where “to relax” we continue the Year of Magical
           could play host
             to a hold up….”

This makes reference to Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking, her own memoir of inconsolable grief and madness, and learning to somehow rise and LIVE! Sherlock and Evans press against us an honesty which leaves its grill marks and shadows, but never an emptiness, and not the easy retreat from what they see.

         I appreciate the instructor
         deeply but I’ve already mastered
         the lessons of misunderstanding

         The city is too dirty
         for you     You’re right
         you might be too clean

         for me though my doubts
         are arousing     I want you dirty
         enough to be comfortable

         & relax     How did I get
         so at-home in
         the post-apocalypse?

In an age where we find ourselves at the mercy of all the neglect our elected governing bodies have been denying and spinning, and in an age where too many poets lack the loyalty to their own convictions and sidestep the courage it takes to take a stand with such passive statements as, “Oh, I don’t like overt political content in my poems,” THIS BOOK by THESE TWO POETS returns poetry to the center of poetry’s sharp edges to CARE about this world, and CARE to risk taking a stand!

         A trinity of medals conduct
                 this dull hum of energy     relics of a faith
                    you almost lost     Basta! then Basta!
                    Let us be this new city &
                    liberate ourselves     We can swear
                    ourselves into a parallel government
                    while the sun is coming up

                 I just want to act as your companion
              species since rulers are for losers
         This moment in the history of history

If Shamanism is a leadership procured through discovering the magic that bends the light of this world and blends its infinite chemical motors, then poets are Shamans, at least poets worth the salt in their veins. The storm is burning in effigy in these pages, and that really happened, and so did the storm despite editors and publishers of travel guide books. Forget the corporate publishing bullshit and give trust to Bill Lavender, publisher of Lavender Ink, and his pair of living Virgils — Sherlock and Evans — who lead us to our own ample declarations for the stark smells of love and survival.

CAConrad is the author of Deviant Propulsion (Soft Skull, 2006), The Book of Frank (Chax, 2008), (Soma)tic Midge (FAUX, 2008), and a collaboration with poet Frank Sherlock titled The City Real & Imagined: Philadelphia Poems (Factory School, 2008). He can be found at