I admit that I’m biased. I have been a fan of Christopher Luna’s poetry for years and I have high expectations, particularly since I know how dedicated he is- not only to the craft but to the communities that can be formed and nurtured around creative work.
Ghost Town, USA refers to the poet’s town of Vancouver, Washington, a town in the shadow of the infamous Portland. The name comes from his first impressions of the town- a place without people, even in the middle of the afternoon. For a transplanted New Yorker, this can be unsettling, and for a poet like Christopher Luna who writes from a place so rooted in observations of the tangible, one can imagine how difficult it must have been in the beginning as he struggled to get used to the silence. Perhaps something changed in him, opened up to the place, because he came around to this particular town, came to discover a layer of noise that can only be deciphered when one chooses to hear. It does not find the listener, he needed to get to eye level and engage with the place, with the geography and it’s subtle pulse, to hear it: conversations on the bus, one sided conversations with words delivered in skips to a cell phone, the flow of young lovers and friends immersed in the logistics of living, plans made, drug culture and hipster lingo, people making their way on the bus to different destinations…personalities made, being crafted and delivered in postures and gestures before his observant eyes. We have conversations recounted, but his is a multi-media ethic: bumper stickers, signs, notes, fridge magnets, jackets, lyrics, recollections of poetry. We meet believers of miracles, social service cynics, hustlers and bruskers, addicts, people who are in love and people who would dearly like to be.
And of course there’s sex, which he embraces with his characteristic sérieux effarouché, ever the innocent voyeur glad to champion the cause of documentation: a young girl/in a turquoise top/her breasts/a redeeming vision.
The reader can’t help but connect the poet’s exploration of his own layers (the essence of neuroses, habit forming thoughts, thousand shoulds) with his excavations in Ghost Town. Ghost Town is a place that perhaps shifts the burden of “living the life poetic” squarely on the shoulders of the practicing poet who will not be confronted by the lifestyle at every turn upon leaving the apartment in the quiet suburb, but must rather seek out opportunities. The poet “of place”, as he is becoming in his Ghost Town, is not a passive witness but an avid seeker. He has decided to make peace with this place.
What is he after? What is he looking for? Why does it matter? These seem like fair questions to ask.
What is there about a man, coming to terms with transitions, that would resonate with a reader who has never been to Vancouver?
In the answers that will certainly vary among us, we begin to understand one important theme:
That his town is every town, the ugly he finds is not unlike the ugliness that exists everywhere. The people might be thousands of miles away from the reader, but no doubt the reader has known them. They are nameless, faceless characters that pass through his poetry, they are faces we recognize, things we read and sense as familiar but we can’t always place where or why. He learns that despite being a haven for paranoia, the suburbs have their share of scary things.
In the end, we learn that Christopher Luna is not just writing about “some town” and what he comes to know about its character. He is giving the reader an opportunity to examine these snippets and vignettes and connect them to something that is very important to him, something in the subtext of so much of his work: active living. Being on the street, touching one another, experiencing one another with the fuller spectrum of the excited, engaged sensorium-hearing voices in all kinds of contexts, different people involved in different relationships and playing out their roles, exterior manifestations of interior selves, common struggles and extraordinary ones alike.
Get out there and live, that’s how you come face to face with a place, with the inhabitants. You have to live among one another with that essential kind of openness.
Christopher Luna is a poet, teacher, artist, and a person that I have the privilege of also calling a friend. You can contact him for information about Ghost Town, USA and check out his blog here.
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