“The Museum of False Starts”, Poems by Chip Livingston– Original and Beautiful


Livingston, Chip. “Museum of False Starts”, Gival Press, 2010.

Original and Beautiful

Amos Lassen


I have to ask about what is happening in gay poetry these days. In the last two weeks I have received nine new books of poetry almost  as if there is rain after a drought. I spent today with Chip Livingston’s new book and for me, it was really something. As I read, I stopped and thought for a moment of how many false starts we all have made in life.How many times have we thought to ourselves, “should have, would have, could have” but didn’t? We can never return to those false starts because they have gotten away from us and if we did not know that, Chip Livingston reminds us. Life is a paradox and we are but paradoxical players in it. Somehow we manage to find rest and make peace with our paradoxical lives.

Livingston takes us on a journey of some of the false starts we all make and what is so interesting is that what we think of as common and everyday becomes revelation when he writes of it. This poetic journey touches on our gay experience as we travel with the poet from the beginning of our country and wend our way through tales and stories and to bars and socials. It is hard not to find yourself in Livingston’s poems and while you may not want to admit that you are there, you actually enjoy the reference. And if you do not find yourself in the book, that is okay too because you will have had a wonderful reading experience. The variety of poetic forms that Livingston uses is amazing—sonnet, sestina and others, I felt like if I did not make it to the museum of false starts, I did make it to a wonderful experience.

What amazes me is not just the variety of poetic forms used but the variety and diversity of topics. Native Americans play a huge part as we see in several poems—“Coon was Here, 1985”, “Shake Rattles”, “Apalachee Tuscaloosa”. We see how human the poet is by his uncertainty as he relates the poems to us and I felt that as I read there still might be more to be said than what appears on the page. Closure does always come and I find that is what brings us into the poetry. Livingston uses silence or quiet not only between poems but within them as well.

Inevitably when I review poetry I am asked if I have a favorite poem from a collection, I must admit that with Livingston, I have a whole section of favorites. Section II consists of poems that to me are personal and therefore really spoke to me. However, I hate to separate parts form the whole. The entire collection is a rewarding read.

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