This is one of the latest collections of poetry by the prolific Ontario poet Ryan Quinn Flanagan, who has amassed more than thirty-five books to date, most of which are still available through Lulu or Amazon. Check out the yolasite below. This output is not surprising when you consider that on a good full day Flanagan can crank out 20-25 poems. Recently asked if he ever deleted a poem Flanagan quipped, “Hahaha! Yeah, I got a big pile of QC (Quality Control) that I box away when it’s not good enough so plenty of rejects for sure.”
There are 199 poems in Ambient Savage and those familiar with Flanagan’s poetry will find both confessional verse combined with what Flanagan refers to as his “wandering poems.” He explained his use of style in a BM review of his collection Gangbangs and Other Mass Rallies (Pski’s Porch, 2017), “The more matter of fact confessional type poems are much more straight forward, and often the backbone of the book. The other intricate word play or “wandering poems” as I like to call them are probably the best example of how my brain works. They are non-linear, almost steams of conscious, but not quite. I honestly enjoy writing these types of poems more and more I find. I don't consciously set out to do so, but I find that more of them are appearing in newer works.”
The title poem “Ambient Savage” appears early in the collection:
Big Brother is little sister
sharing a bunk
the fingers of lepers
always leaving the
and I walk into the room
and all the walls have been
not a Latin bone in my body
so that fishy cans from Sardinia
mean nothing to me
that salty red taste of split lips
after a fight
the way you can leave yourself
behind in the snow
and be somewhere else
your ambient savage
scabbed across distant
drying in the street
that stolen joyride cars
The highly associative word play in the title poem is a good example of Flanagan’s “wandering” poetry. In the Gangbangs interview, he explicitly explained the sense of artist freedom and joy he derives from his writing methods:
“I have always loved surrealist paintings and Dada and such and the wandering poems allow me to jump around a bit like a frog stretching its legs a little…It is more a comfortable free association as you go along, not locked in on anything specific, but rather gliding through loose sentiments and never forcing a cohesion. There often is a loose cohesion when you are done, but it is flexible and free and therefore often the most rewarding.”
You will find more than two dozen “wandering poems” in the collection. Here’s another interesting example:
and come up
that is straight
carrot on a stick
leading the horse
and the cars
that won’t start
come to rest
in the street
children try the doors,
then jump on the hoods
if there is a body in the trunk
the right people will
with its testicles cut off
and shoved in
this is a reckless
the plates removed
like loose teeth
and when the summer comes
it is hot
your clothes seem to stick to you
like cotton shadows
in the absence of trees
I have been following Flanagan’s work for over ten years and have been impressed by his tenacity to get the word down on the page. Asked about his process of composition and how he arranges the order of his poems for publication, he extensively replied:
“The process I follow for composition is pretty simple and repetitive. I eat the same thing which is a bowl of oatmeal, then I listen to the same music to get in the right headspace. Usually some Ministry and Nine Inch Nails or Joy Division. After that, I head upstairs with some wine or beer and switch to classical music from hard rock or industrial. The classical stuff is just nice and quiet like something in the background to help put you into a sort of trance so you just get to the business of writing without thinking about it too much. I might have a few notes to jog the memory, but usually I'll just sit down and see what comes out. If I have a full day to write I write until the wine or beer is gone. Then I turn the computer off and grab some dinner before bed. I can't write everyday of course, we all have lives to lead and life stuff always intruded, but when I can I definitely make the time and just repeat the above process as many times as I can.
“When I feel the poems are written and the collection is ready to be assembled, I print out a hard copy and spread all the poems out on the bed so I can get a real good idea for the flow as I'm arranging. The flow is very important to me like building a strong album in many ways. Some people can just do it on the fly on the computer, but I have to see everything laid out in hard copy and arrange things that way. Then I take the assembled MS and rebuild it onto the computer with cut and paste until it is in an ordered MS form on the computer. Then I read through and make any edits I have to, usually just a lot of little spelling and grammar things. I almost never change anything that is written. I figure it was written during that specific time and headspace and just stick to spelling and grammar edits. It is important to be totally sober for this part, can't stress that enough! "Write drunk, edit sober" is a mantra I certainly ascribe to.
“After first edit, the MS is ready to be sent off to the respective publisher. The MS is then formatted into a PDF and all the line and spacing issues are dealt with. I do a second reading during this stage as well. When the corrections come back, I check to make sure everything is good to go and usually do a third cursory edit read while we work on the cover art and other important things that go into a work. Then the proof is ordered and we check to make sure everything is correct and transferred just as we wanted it to be. After that, we are good to go. And that's the process for every book with little to no variation. Just certain things may be different depending on the respective publisher. But I really am a creature of habit when it comes to writing, that's for sure.”
As with Flanagan’s previous collections there is no unifying theme in Ambient Savage. As he explained in the Gangbangs review, “I much prefer to sit down and write whatever comes to mind over a couple of months, and then look at what I have in its entirety and choose from there. A few loose themes or motifs often appear, but overall, the idea is to just let things flow and see what comes from that; to mine the subconscious and make sure the conscious just gets out of the way as much as possible. When the poems are written, that is the way they are.”
The poems in Ambient Savage were written over a short period of time two years ago and “in the same head space.” Flanagan says of the process of getting this collection published:
“Ambient Savage was written about two years ago. I then approached the amazing artist Marcel Herms about his fantastic art for the cover. I love whenever I get a chance to work with Marcel. We've worked together on five books to date and I'm sure there will be many more. Once I had the book written assembled and proofed and the cover art, I approached a press about working with them. To their credit, they got back to me and said they would like to publish Ambient Savage, but had so many books ahead of it in the queue that it would be over a year before they could get to it and suggested I see if I could get it picked up somewhere else in the meantime if I could. I was very appreciative of them being so upfront about the wait. That extra time would have put the poems at over three years old at that point. I then went over the MS again with yet another proof before I approached Rust Belt and Ambient Savage came about pretty quickly after that.
“As I mentioned, most the poems were written over two years ago and then there was a wait with the first press before the move to the second. The poems in this collection are their own beast and completely independent of the other collections. They were all written during the same short period of time and in the same head space. And having Marcel's wonderful artwork grace the cover really brought everything together. That guy is truly a great artist!”
The heart of Ambient Savage consists of confessional verse and narrative poems which include personal anecdotes and observations of everyday events, conversations with his wife and other women, his battle with mental illness and his thoughts on writers and writing. The writing is typically clear and easy to follow.
In the poem “Key Development” Flanagan uses a simple trip to get a key cut into a memorable experience for the reader:
I am in this little closet of a shop
down by the water.
Having a key made for my new place.
This old timer in a candy-striped smock
standing over the buffer.
A wrinkly stooped Polack
with large brown growths
on his face.
There are many locks on the wall as well.
I check the one on the entrance to the shop
figuring this old timer would use the lock
he trusted the most.
There is no open or closed sign.
No one comes in while I am present.
I doubt they even know it is there.
It’s the type of place you walk by
a thousand times without thinking
When the key is done, the old timer
charges me next to nothing.
I thank him and he nods.
The same way creepy butlers do
in old horror movies that don’t
Then I am out the door
and back into the
With a shiny new key
tucked inside a small white
Past the movie house crowd
and date night diners inside
Knowing the quietest one in the room
is the strongest one
in the room.
And your noise is the sound of
Perhaps the consistently best in the collection are his portrait poems, usually of struggling, marginalized people who appear in poems such as “Evgeny the Loan Shark”, “The Dope Dealer”, “Stanley’s Creation”, “Chop Shop”, “Gridlock Gary”, “Luke” and “$5 Cum Dumpster.”
Ryan Quinn Flanagan recently told me about the evolving role that writing has had in his life, "I used to think that writing just played a cursory role in my life, but as I've gotten older I think it plays a much more therapeutic role than I previously thought. I used to laugh at that idea and I still have some problems with the idea of that, but writing really does help me. It just calms me more than anything and allows the opportunity to do something I enjoy doing as opposed to all the things we all have to do in daily life that aren't enjoyable in the least. Some of those daily things can be soul crushing really, so it's good to have something you can go to that makes you feel good, you know? And because it is so enjoyable I try to make time to do it whenever I can."
You will find plenty of surprises in Ambient Savage. When you think you have Flanagan worked out he will fling your way a remarkable line or a poem to blow you away. That said, some of the poems in the collection appear comparatively weak and perhaps this is due to Flanagan’s massive output, his bold experiments and his determination not to revise his work once it is down. He says candidly in the Gangbangs review, “I never revise anything beyond simple spelling and grammar issues. I believe that when you write, what came from that day, that specific time and space is specific to that place and not to be polished up or amended later on when you find yourself in a completely different headspace. I don't want to censor anything I may say, so I just go with my first natural instinct and trust that.”
Ambient Savage is an interesting and solid collection of poems. Flanagan is up there with the best of the alternative small press. And as he is still only in his early 40s we should expect dozens of books to follow. The poems may not always work but you have to admire Flanagan for his ongoing experimentation with language and his tenacity in getting his work out there.
Buy the book here: http://www.lulu.com/au/en/shop/ryan-quinn-flanagan/ambient-savage/paperback/product-23998229.html#ratingsReview
Check out dozens of other books by Ryan Quinn Flanagan here: http://ryanquinnflanagan.yolasite.com/books.php
Find a BM review/ interview of Flanagan’s Gangbangs and Other Mass Rallies(2017) here: https://georgedanderson.blogspot.com/2018/01/ryan-quinn-flanagan-gangbangs-and-other.html
March 16, 2019 Interview with The Dope Fiend Daily: https://thedopefienddaily.blogspot.com/2019/03/interview-with-ryan-quinn-flanagan.html