Michael Lally reading at Folio Books in Washington, D.C., c. 1977, with Doug Lang and Terence Winch.
Michael Lally’s Another Way to Play, out next week, is an awesome book and you should read every word of it. You won’t do it in a day or in many days, but during the passage of reading it you will learn something about time. Another Way to Play seems to offer advice—and it’s advice from self to self, which might be the only way to enact advice truly. Plus, who is that “another”? Somebody else?
As I’m climbing over the rocks, the poems of Michael Lally, this incomplete utopia, a rugged landscape of a book, it occurs to me that what Michael takes on is nothing less than the feat of being alive and the exploding and strewn nature of that exactly on its own terms (living in a body) while this writer keeps trotting out his own arrogance like a family joke, and deep humility is in there, too, humility is the gas station of so much of what Michael Lally does and is, poet and man. Lally is mostly a straight guy, but you may viscerally experience the embrace of another man in “Watching You Walk Away,” which was dedicated to Gregory Millard, one man who died collectively—of AIDS, so there’s an imputation here—of being a survivor of love, even being a man of a certain age or moment who knows that being a loving man and loving men now has both its glory and its price:
The world is all around us, even at night, in bed
in each others arms
distilled & injected into the odor we leave on each others
backs & thighs, between the knots & shields of all we lay
down in the dark to pick up in the morning
I like your brown eyes when you talk
This collected poems or collected poem is constructed of similar yet all different mostly brave moments. It’s a compendium of what one is possibly brave enough to do—to labor, to fail, to lounge, to love. Lally’s not fessing up, but he’s proud. This is undoubtedly the book of a proud man. Proud to a fault, and he’s the first to tell you that as well. I mentioned family before. Yet what one more likely feels throughout the four-hundred-odd pages of Another Way to Play is that you’re kind of in a relationship with this guy. Whether you’re male or female. Which is kind of octopussy, but stylistically Lally is a dancer, habitually reeling from form to form. It’s a broken book in the best sense. There’s no whole here, the self is never resolved, but what’s delivered, weltered in poem form, is a novelistic series of impressions. It’s a real thing and a changing thing. An aesthetic and a biographical one. Years ago I read in James Schuyler’s “Morning of the Poem” that Schuyler approved of Michael Lally because he looked you straight in the eye. Here we’ve got an extended Lally poem (“The Jimmy Schuyler Sonnets”) that tells us much the same thing—that “Jimmy knew what mattered.” The men’s mutual admiration, their like for one another has a special feeling, a leveling affect. They invite us into their intimacy. Their public “like.” Which makes me want to step out too and acknowledge that I’m discovering that I’m extremely influenced by Michael Lally and I hadn’t thought so much about that until I was dwelling in Another Way to Play. Because his affect occurs through so many different gestures. In the most existential way, his poem is an act. Read More