Secret Carnival Workers
by Paul Haines
second review of a previously covered book: SECRET CARNIVAL WORKERS
First covered in the Summer 2010 issue of Reviewer
Here it is again because it’s JUST THAT GOOD.
By Reviewer Rob
Secret Carnival Workers (book) by Paul Haines, edited by Stuart Broomer with Emily Haines, with notes by Paul Haines by Carla Bley, Roswell Rudd and Micheal Snow, 2007 from H.Pal Productions, 232 pages, paperback, 5×7 approx., with some back Andrew white photos
This fine book waited a long time for a review. I wasn’t familiar with the writing of Paul Haines until I found out that his daughter Emily, the lead singer of Metric, had a father who was a jazz critic/lyric writer and poet and that he had a book. Since I was fond of Emily’s work I wanted to check this out. Glad I did too. Comprehensive monographs that are thoughtfully compiled are usually pretty good. Assessing the life’s work of an artist is usually a sobering experience. But when the work is as un-narcissistic as that of Paul Haines, and one that lacks self-consciousness, it’s all the more satisfying.
There’s a strange “magic” here too. I don’t really believe in magic, or if it exists I can’t say I’ve experienced it, but I will say this: the book has a serendipitous quality to it. As many of you know I, Reviewer Rob, am a man of many hats. One of my side jobs is I run a tree-trimming business here in Southern California; both the work can be fun and it’s often well paid. Plus as the boss I get to make my own hours.
One afternoon a couple of years ago or so I was doing a dump run to the local landfill with my neighbor Tim “Sheep McSheepy” Sheepy (yes, that’s his real name he goes by – his rave-identity, so to speak … actually at the tiime it was “Sheepfucker” but I guess he’s toned it down now) who was acting as my assistant that day. He’s also a member of the local San Diego/Ocean Beach contingent of the famous Burningman tribe of party people. We were to drop off of a load of from the previous day’s tree job at the dump but before starting on our way to the landfill we stopped by the post office to get the newest batch of review material. In it was this paperback, Secret Carnival Workers. I climbed back in my truck and opened the package, thumbed through the tome one time and set it down.
Once at the dump, while driving through the Clean Green area where trees are recycled, Sheepy picked the book up from atop the cupholder armrest where it was lain and opened it to a random page in the middle. It was page 98, the eponymous poem from which the title of the book had been taken. Here are its first eight lines:
HAS TAKEN SHEEP
TO THE DUMP
AND THE SMOKE
TO THE AMAZEMENT EVEN
OF SECRET CARNIVAL
True story. I wasn’t that impressed with the eerie coincidence at the time, but Tim was. He practically cried out as he looked up from the book with wide-eyed amazement at the long rows of chipped tree matter lining the road at the Kearny Mesa landfill as we drove by them. Then he re-read the passage to me. And no, I don’t think I’m The Prince.
Paul Haines had international fame in jazz circles, probably still does, I bet. But even if one is not familiar with that musical milieu it’s easy to get into the artful imagery of this unstructured prose and poetic verse here. In this cyber age of 140-word tweets and inarticulate blog posts it’s a refreshing throwback to a more literate time when the music scene was less of a scene and more about music.
In summary, this is a sturdy and valuable backpack-concealable paperback, with possible magic qualities. All poetry is, after all, possibly magic – if there is a thing called magic – songs lyrics and scripture afterall are formed from it.