how to paint sunlight

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

(New Directions, 94 pages, $19.95)

How to Paint Sunlight, which collects either "new poems" (according to the dust jacket) or "poems & others from 1997 to 2000" (according to the title page), is, nonetheless, San Francisco icon Lawrence Ferlinghetti's latest book.

The title echoes Jacques Prévert's 1946 Pour Faire le Portrait d'Oiseau (How to Paint a Picture of a Bird), a book Ferlinghetti's City Lights Books published in 1960. Sunlight actually starts with Ferlinghetti delivering a clever and interesting four-page "Instruction to Painters and Poets" on how to paint or create light.

In the section "New York, New York," "Journal Notes Turning Into a Poem," which is one of the more thoughtful and delightful poems in this book, begins with Ferlinghetti's birth certificate and ends with him listening for sounds of his vanished family. Here, echoes of "Shouts and laughter/ tears and whispers/ fill the air."

The section "Into the Interior" is notable for two touching poems centered on Allen Ginsberg's death: "Allen This Instant" and "Allen Ginsberg Dying." The latter ends evocatively with "I am reading Greek poetry/ The sea is in it/ Horses weep in it/ The horses of Achilles/ weep in it/ here by the sea/ in San Francisco/ where the waves weep/ They make a sibilant sound/ sibylline sound/ Allen/ they whisper/ Allen."

"A Tourist of Revolutions," the collection's penultimate poem, deals humorously with leftist political struggle since 1959 and concludes with gong-clanging repetition and rhyme: "And when I die without a sound/ And when I die without a sound/ I'll surely join I'll surely join/ the permanent Underground."

Though the tone in these poems is right, easy rhymes often spoil their final effect. But whatever it weaknesses, Ferlinghetti aficionados will delight in this volume. Carlos Reyes 

by Hugo Hamilton
(Four Walls Eight Windows, 230 pages, $13.95)

It's safe to say that Hugo Hamilton's blunt and caustic prose is immune to the periodic attempts by well-meaning types to gentrify the crime genre. Hamilton, an Irish writer with blood and lye in his inkwell, doesn't indulge in high-flown literary language, going so far as to eschew conventional doctrine regarding character development. When things happen to Coyne, the out-of-control cop from whom Headbanger's narrative spews, they just happen, with no fealty paid to the old writing nostrum of show-don't-tell. Coyne goes mental? Hamilton writes, "Coyne went mental," and gets on with the action and the volcanic adjectives.

Riding this memorable style, Headbanger makes a breakneck return to the classic pulp age. Hamilton invests Dublin's drear with dread and grit reminiscent of American bad-ass Jim Thompson, while Coyne combines Dirty Harry's vigilante instincts with highly Irish historical and cultural obsessions. He's a rank-and-file member of the Garda Siochana ("Guardians of the Peace") and a suburbanized family man, but that doesn't stop him from viewing himself on a mythic scale.

His beat drags him through some of Dublin's grubbiest districts, but the drama in his brain seeks a cosmic stage: Coyne as Savior of the Nation, Coyne as modern incarnation of Celtic warrior legend Finn MacCumhail, Coyne as the harbinger of global ecological collapse. And though the story of Coyne's frantic self-appointed pursuit of a thuggish Dublin crime boss takes awhile to get rolling, it ends in a crescendo of emotion and violence on an appropriately grand scale. Hamilton succeeds in weaving a small epic of crime, insanity and redemption--writerly niceties be damned. Zach Dundas


alabama wildman
by Thurston Moore
(Water Row Press, 116 pages, $18.95)

Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore likes playing tricks, and his first book proper is no exception. Among his deliberately see-through poems-as-lists and his improv wordplay is a charmingly sappy autobiographical four-pager about his early crushes. About 30 pages later there's a story about a rising underground rock star titled "in the mind of the bourgeois reader." You might think you're getting some personal dirt ("When MTV made us famous I started having sex with different girls and women"), but then the narrator talks about his band opening up for Sonic Youth, and you can just see the lanky rock icon smirking at his typewriter.

The only thing that really makes this book intriguing is the fact that Moore is an icon, and it's always fun to trip around in someone's head when you've listened to his music for 20 years. In fact, the best pieces are the ones that aren't really his invention: his chummy interview with Patti Smith, who reveals her affinity for Jeremy Irons and the Detroit Pistons, and the afterword by music critic Richard Meltzer, who announces that the book is "about BROADS." There's also a letter from editor Byron Coley that states, "The functional persona in a buncha Thurston's stuff here comes from his teenage reading (or misreading) of Meltzer."

Moore's poems are very Meltzeresque, although more rife with musical-name-dropping (Blonde Redhead is accused of being a bunch of Sonic Youth rip-offs, Beck is called "the human beatbox meets the chewing-cud cow," and the poem "1985" is simply a disjointed roster of Moore's favorite albums that year).

If Alabama Wildman were an album, it would be full of B-sides and interesting outtakes but relevant only to fans. Kevin Sampsell