Charles Plymell - Review of West of Mass

Tansy Press, Lawrence, KS; 1992.

One of the best, most recent publications to come out of the
Kansas Magic Realism School is Jim McCrary's, West Of Mass.
True to the heritage of ritualistic regionalism that gave us
vortex landscapes where the episodic nerve was wired to fast
association, the Hobohemian experience of the beanery and
the tough flat noir of Belle Starr and Salt Chunk Mary lives
again. After all, the Turk left Coronado stuck out there,
and every good magician knows how to create a legend when
nothing else is happening. It is no wonder that Burroughs
lives in Lawrence, and encouraged this production. The
illustrations by S. Clay Wilson will alert the readers to
what scenes may follow. "Hippy Jim" might now be drinking
red beer at Sporty's, with a half-white Kickapoo, but we
still taste the flavor of the old Rock Chalk Cafe, or the
years and names before that, which keeps that realism wired;
as in his description of the Dalton brothers putting on
show in Coffeyville, "The term wired/applied to any other
than/ Emmett, Bob, Grat and Bill/ is ludicrous. Look it up
pal. Look it up."

He asks the reader for the freedom that clarifies kicks...
or there's always Charlie Starkweather, or Bat, or Jessie,
or those hair-triggered legends of his poems. He
deliberately pushes pathos to the flash point where he gets
inside the "wired" and doesn't just ingest wired as a
metaphoric caffeine/amphetamine past-beat familiarity, but
rather a metaphor for the magic realism like in the wires
that the storm left sparking and shooting around on the
ground, as if he "Can't lay anything down/ there is no down

Though some of his poems require that special Kansas wild
esoteric-humor to fully appreciate, most of them bring it
right home as his "S&L Updated," in which he has Bonny and
Clyde come down on a bank with Neil Bush behind the desk. Or
his "Quien Es (?) Indeed," which is illustrated by a great
S. Clay Wilson rendition of the classic portrait of Billy
the Kid and his past and current lovers, full of holes or
not, "Here stands William Bonney/ like a lot of us/ at the
apex of a career/ and in the middle of a dilemma..." Some of
his most accessible poems mimic the conversations of
cowhands playing a little poker or crawling into the bunk:

"Film Noir"

With a name
like "Sundance"
how could you
be anything but
a "kid"
and sleep with
anyone but
a fellow

Jim McCrary works the Kansas idiom into his realism and
draws special attention to associative levels of meanings or
double meanings, reminding us of a Kansan who doesn't want
to waste any words, or a gunfighter who lets his riding
(reading) partner take it any way he wants it. In His poem,
"Doc" he uses Doc Holliday's last words, "This is Funny" to
comment: "No doubt about it/ the man had a way/ with/
shotguns/ and metaphysics.

From Grist On-Line #1, October, 1993. An original publication.
© copyright 1993 Charles Plymell