Ron Kolm, an institution in the formerly symbolist New York City literary community before it became rife with phony baloney bullshit based solely on who you know instead of the grit and realism of the offered content, is at it again with his latest work, a collection of poetry called A Change in the Weather. Released by Sensitive Skin Books, each poem is a testament to what we’ve long known about Kolm: his talent lies in painting a portrait of the details, those little things that others might not notice. From the aloof, self-aggrandizing nature of Andy Warhol in “Fame by Association” to the fraught, history repeating vibes of “Jimi” (which can be read here), Kolm covers precise ground in the short space of his poetry.
Though The Opiate has previously showcased his knack for fiction in the form of Duke & Jill, A Change in the Weather makes evident the ease with which his style translates to poetry. Still maintaining his autobiographical slant in pieces like “Forklift,” Kolm is able to turn his sort of everyman blue collar persona into verse with stanzas like,
“Before I got hired
The factory had been in south Philly
And when it moved
In order to expand
The original employees
Followed, even though
It was now a long distance
From where they lived.
They’d get up before dawn
And shuffle through the day
Like zombies, but they hung on–
Desperate to keep the low-paying job.”
And then, of course, there are his constant odes to the strange, perpetually inexplicable unless you’ve lived in it microcosm that is New York–though Kolm’s descriptions do justice to its brand of bizarreness, as is the case with “Terminal.” As a longtime employee of bookstores, among them the legendary and now defunct St. Marks Bookshop, Kolm’s time working at a purveyor of literature in Grand Central before it, predictably, closed is illuminated by the lines, “And I’m killing time/At the information counter/Looking stuff up/On the bookstore’s computer…” That sense of ennui that can only come from an artist forced to work a menial job (Patti Smith offers a similar vibe in Just Kids when rehashing her tenure at The Strand, which also, incidentally happens to be a poem title about the establishment in A Change in the Weather) drenches the scene with languor.
The commentary on perspective and subjectivity presented in “Rashomon,” inspired, naturally by the Akira Kurosawa film, reaches an unexpected denouement when our narrator realizes that his take on girl who was “fucked up” on the train turns out to be all wrong after the express line comes to an abrupt halt. And yes, the subway is one of Kolm’s most beloved sources of insight, for where else can one find such a panoply of insanity? Even for those readers unfamiliar with the Russian roulette nature of subway riding or the associated locations of stops (like “8th Street Station”), Kolm’s accessibility is universal in its frankness.
With the dedication, “This book is for Downtown poets, writers, musicians and artists everywhere,” Kolm gives just that rare sect of people the ammo they need to persist in a version of New York that doesn’t quite compare to the one Kolm came up in–as evinced by “Classical Music Lover,” the book’s opening poem in which Kolm recounts having to clear away the debris of junkies that would “assume their usual positions/In front of the poetry section.” Hopefully, the neatly manicured grad school students of this town will also gather in front of the poetry section to encounter A Change in the Weather for some schooling in how not to sound contrived.