TWO REVIEWS IN ONE: KILROY WAS HERE... ME TOO! (poetry chapbook) and WORK AVERSION TRAUMA (a memoir)
Lyford Crafts Unpretentious Accounts of His Life in Maine
by Dana Wilde Bangor Daily News 8/3/09
Kilroy Was Here... Me Too! by Tom Lyford; Green Bough Publishing, Dover-Foxcroft; 36 pages, saddle-stitched, $5; and Work Aversion Trauma: A Lifetime of Suffering by Tom Lyford, Main Bookshelf LLC, Ripley; 342 pages, trade paperback, no price given.
Full disclosure: I have a fascination for Tom Lyford's writing whose origins are probably not generalizable to everybody else. His experience of childhood and adolescence in Maine just this side of World War II appears to be so much like mine, and he speaks so honestly and takes it and himself with so much salt, that in his poems and now his memoir "Work Aversion Trauma," I feel like I'm in the presence of a long-lost buddy, rather than "a Maine author."
On the Teaparty Scale, which is a scientific measure of literary pretentiousness, Tom Lyford does not register. His lines are not crafted to hang in museums (and then be cut down and abandoned in the tumbleweeds for buzzards). In fact they are barely crafted at all - they just speak a human voice. He is apparently uninterested in propounding upon the 21st century's lofty moral issues involving race, class and gender, except to the extent that they bewildered him throughout a Dover-Foxcroft lifetime (as opposed to a New York minute). And mainly, he takes his own pains and predicaments to be endlessly amusing rather than as deep images of cosmic personal suffering.
Hence the title of the memoir: "Work Aversion Trauma: A Lifetime of Suffering." Although he is not exactly Maine's answer to Jonathan Swift, Lyford is - to rejigger a bit of underclass doggerel from childhood - a satirist and don't know it. He is also a real-life character out of a Stephen King novel. Not the hero who will probably get knocked off by monsters, but one of the townspeople trapped in circumstances beyond his control:
"On learning I've been unjustly and incorrectly accused by the proprietor of Kimball's Store of setting fires in her porch trashcan, I've responded the way I always behave when fingered as a culprit. I have cried, denied, and lied. Come clean even, spilled my guts, sung like a canary, and named names."
These sentences might have come straight from backstory to "Needful Things," and there are passages scattered through "Work Aversion Trauma" spoken with exactly that down-Maine, self-deprecating tone and diction that King mastered. This particular paper route misadventure is the beginning of a lifetime of small-time misadventures, from an unwanted job as grease monkey (he drives a car into the garage pit) to dealing with high school students (one "armed and ridiculous") and administrators ("The Boredom Police"). Many teachers will recognize their own improbable, it-was-funny-later realities.
The poems in "Kilroy Was Here ... Me Too" play on similar ironies: life seen from fast-approaching old age and told directly like it looks, whether it's junior-high-age girls "grinding/our hearts to hamburger" or the diverse disadvantages of getting old:
This body you're stuck in now?
with a snowball's chance in hell of getting one
more inspection sticker? that you kick yourself
for not having had serviced more regularly?
I can tell you right now that Tom Lyford is not going to win any literary prizes. No professors of the 22nd century are likely to mine his verse for hidden scholastic treasures or innovative poetic diction. These poems are true 21st century anti-poetry because they're about what they're about, not something else, which is what the professors seem to want.
"Newsflash: nobody gets off the rock alive." Take it from Tom Lyford, it ain't easy being us.
"Work Aversion Trauma" and "Kilroy Was Here ... Me Too," along with Lyford's other poetry chapbooks, are available by e-mailing email@example.com or at Bookmarc's and Borders in Bangor..