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Riffs & Improvisations by Gregory Luce

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 36 pgs.
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Riffs & Improvisations by Gregory Luce opens with an apt quote from Wallace Stevens, in which he says music is a feeling, not sound. Luce moves through the music of his collection like a man in love. He loves not only the music, but the music of love.

In the opening poem, “Music to It,” he reaches us through our souls, those moments we all remember when we wanted the music blaring as we moved through our day. He sways and glides on the Metro to an unheard music strumming through his headphones, and he’s unable to stop moving and tapping. Isn’t this why we all love the music we do? Because it moves us, even when we’re in public and perhaps shy about our love of music.

Luce pays homage to what I’ll call “music memory.” In “An air that kills,” he says, “I hear/you whisper underneath/the song, a memory/that pricks without/the power to console.//” Each of us has those songs or riffs of music that recall memories. I cannot get past a song without recalling some memory or moment or loved one who has passed away. There are so many songs that call to us for its melody, its lyrics, its rhythms, but they also are tied to our lives by memory.

From John Coltrain to Richard Strauss, Luce’s improvisations can leave you breathless, swimming in a sea of bourbon and memory swirling in a glass and chinking ice. And you know that there’s a playlist on Spotify for this collection — how could you not have one! I will definitely be listening as I read this collection again. The delightful rhythm of Riffs & Improvisations by Gregory Luce will carry you away, allowing you to lay your head down and dream away in the “light of a love supreme.”

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Gregory Luce is the author of five books of poems: Signs of Small Grace, Drinking Weather, Memory and Desire, Tile, and Riffs & Improvisations (forthcoming in 2021). His poems have appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Kansas Quarterly, Cimarron Review, Innisfree Poetry Review, If, Northern Virginia Review, Juke Jar, Praxilla, Little Patuxent Review, Buffalo Creek Review, and in several anthologies. He recently retired after 32 years from National Geographic and now lives in Arlington, VA. He is a volunteer writing tutor and mentor with 826DC.

Mailbox Monday #652

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Velvet, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

This is what we received:

Riffs and Improvisations by Gregory Luce, which I purchased and is possible candidate for Gaithersburg Book Festival.

Music’s ineffable power has never been so lyrically rendered as in Gregory Luce’s new collection. Erik Satie, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, Charles Mingus, Richard Strauss, Nick Cave—such masters and many more appear here. Luce’s carefully crafted poems are as elegant as the songs which they so deftly capture. – Nathan Leslie, Author of Hurry Up and Relax, Sibs, and Best Small Fictions Series Editor

“That torpedo had our names / on it from the start,” Gregory Luce writes at the end of “Improvisation: Sunk,” one of many urgent and poignant poems navigating to the tune of destiny and knowing loss in Riffs & Improvisations. This wondrous collection gifts us inspired poetic “riffs” infused with musical sensibility, “cascading like / notes,” off the page “like Trane / soloing filigrees.” He paints vivid internal and external lyric landscapes: hospital waiting rooms, dance floors, and transports us to Paris 1920 with a breeze that “wafts over the piano.” Luce plunges into language with an arsenal of truths composing a score from the muses of lived experience—a luminous book propelling a voice we crave. -Ava C. Cipri, Author of Leaving the Burdened Ground and Queen of Swords

The stunning poems in Gregory Luce’s Riffs & Improvisations know ecstasy. They pulse, ache, and rejoice. These poems live in kitchens, juke joints, symphony halls, and most importantly, the human heart. Luce conducts masterfully. We feel the beat in a crowded Metro Station, we dance, mistaking our breathing for another’s. These poems take us into the marrow of music, where rhythm recognizes its relatives in our bones. These poems take us into cold purgatory and a river of bourbon. Luce gives us Coltrane, and much more, which means, his poems save us. – Joseph Ross, Author of Ache and Raising King

The Storyteller by Dave Grohl, purchased on Audible, though I still want the actual hardcover. I couldn’t find the book at the local Target, which said they would have it.

So, I’ve written a book.

Having entertained the idea for years, and even offered a few questionable opportunities (“It’s a piece of cake! Just do four hours of interviews, find someone else to write it, put your face on the cover, and voila!”) I have decided to tell these stories just as I have always done, in my own voice. The joy that I have felt from chronicling these tales is not unlike listening back to a song that I’ve recorded and can’t wait to share with the world, or reading a primitive journal entry from a stained notebook, or even hearing my voice bounce between the Kiss posters on my wall as a child.

This certainly doesn’t mean that I’m quitting my day job, but it does give me a place to shed a little light on what it’s like to be a kid from Springfield, Virginia, walking through life while living out the crazy dreams I had as young musician. From hitting the road with Scream at 18 years old, to my time in Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, jamming with Iggy Pop or playing at the Academy Awards or dancing with AC/DC and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, drumming for Tom Petty or meeting Sir Paul McCartney at Royal Albert Hall, bedtime stories with Joan Jett or a chance meeting with Little Richard, to flying halfway around the world for one epic night with my daughters…the list goes on. I look forward to focusing the lens through which I see these memories a little sharper for you with much excitement.

What did you receive?

Poetry Reading in Gaithersburg, Md., Sunday, June 11, 3-5 p.m.

I am honored to be a part of the group at this inaugural poetry reading at The Gallery at Chesapeake Framing.

When Lucinda Marshall asked I was floored, as I am often behind the scenes promoting the poetry of others (a labor of love).

Even after sending her some sample work, I still did not expect to be asked given that I still have not finished a manuscript of poetry and I am in area with a ton of poetic talent — powerhouses, really.

At the same time that I am thrilled to be included, I’m also terrified.  I am not a great public speaker, and yet, I continue to put myself in front of audiences either introducing people or reading poetry — mostly not my own which means this will bring a different level of anxiety.

BUT, enough of that!  Despite all my whining, if you are in the area and would love to hear some great, local poets, I encourage you to come.  I’ll be reading with these lovely people:

The Where:

123 Crown Park Ave.
N. Potomac, MD 20878

The Date and Time:

Sunday, June 11, 2017
3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Refreshments will be served.