Skip to main content

The Chris Chandler Show

  • A Review of Protection From All This Safety

    A Review of Protection From All This Safety

    Poetry that wants to crawl out of the book and up to a microphone.

    Chris Chandler and Phil Rockstroh
    Protection From All This Safety
    Portals Press

    At the release party for Protection From All This Safety, Chris Chandler remarked to me that he was ready, after nine years spent touring the U.S. and Canada in a series of cars and trucks, to "shake the road off" for a while. I asked him what he meant.

    "I have a house now in New Orleans and I enjoy being there," he said. "I'm going to be planning tours now and coming back here when they're done, like normal people operate, instead of living out of my car."

    If you've experienced Chandler live, a book of the work he and longtime collaborator Phil Rockstroh have written may seem an oddity - one does not experience Chris Chandler from the printed page. This is poetry that's meant to be spoken, that wants to crawl out of the book and up to a microphone.

    That you can read it out loud is as much a tribute to Rockstroh's ability to turn a phrase into a universal theme as it is to Chandler's occasionally hallucinogenic sense of humor. At times almost absurdist and at others serious as a heart attack, the poetry in Protection can be difficult to follow. Yet it's aimed squarely at the masses who, Rockstroh says, need it most.

    "I had a woman tell me recently that she hadn't read anything but recovery books for the past year," he laughs. "People have this prevailing sense of emptiness, of confusion. That's so much a part of being human, but in the Prozac republic we don't allow that."

    "I would give this book to people when they're spiritually hungry. When going to the mall isn't working, when ordering something by mail isn't working, when downloading pornography from the 'net isn't working, try poetry."

    The devil wants you to be bored.
    The devil wants you to be boring.
    The devil wants you to sit at home, frozen in a Stygian Lazy
    boy, channel surfing through the 59 circles of hell.

    But there is hope.
    If the devil is the lord of the bored,
    then there shall be redemption in the ridiculous.

    - from "Evil"

    Reading through Protection, one gets something like the sense of falling through an alien world that permeates performances of these works. You realize, though, that what's necessarily missing from the book - Chandler's onstage energy and the music that anchors it - are near vital to the ability of the work to connect with a larger audience.

    Still, the humor (God as an omnipotent zucchini?) comes through and provides enough points of reference to make Protection accessible. Muscle car space ships and a graveyard in the middle of Hartsfield Airport become equally recognizable as parts of our own world.

    This is poetry that's political and personal, spiritual and bodily. Chandler recommends keeping Protection From All This Safety in the bathroom, as the poems are just long enough to read one per trip. Better, perhaps, to get up on a chair and recite them, to be what Rockstroh calls a poetry "evangelist". As the final verse of "Evil" says:

    if you are the kind of person that would read a book like
    this, as if it were poetry -
    then you shall be canonized as a saint.