If there is any elbow room between the crazy eights of classical history and the current pop conundrum on the heels of American jazz, Mike Sweeney has deftly slipped his arm into the slim sleeve of the above. Octagon Commonweal makes yesterday and tomorrow irrelevant, since here we are now, like it or not.
Tony Sanders, author of Partial Eclipse, Transit Authority, The Warning Track, and Immolation Row
In a book like almost nothing I have ever read—maybe closest comes the work of NYC School poet Terence Winch, or the aphorisms of Romanian philosopher Emile M. Cioran—Michael Sweeney cubistly navigates the MMA Octagon as metaphor. He riffs high, pop and underground culture (Alex Chilton, Beethoven, the Mets, Joe Frazier, Kevin Love, George Zimmerman and dozens of others make cameos); he even offers perceptive political insights as in “Solzhenitsyn chronicled the gulag octagon with dreadful exactitude.” This book rises to a kind of referent driven verbal strike, battering the cage of the expected, including the one we carry inside ourselves, for as Sweeney notes, “We all pray in eight-angled chapels with eight-angled rosary beads.”
Sean Thomas Dougherty, Author of All You Ask for is Longing: Selected Poems 1994-2014
Mike Sweeney’s Octagon Commonweal is an engaging and combative volume of quips and koans. All one-liners, many of them aim for and earn a rim shot of approval, especially at the expense of his frequent target, the lower denizens of the realm, the mere brutes. Others of these finely tuned bursts provoke and deserve the sound of two hands clapping for their Blakean evocation of the force-field of energy that we live in that always tortures but sometimes transfigures us, turning guts to grace. The octagon is our cage but also our crucible, a proving ground for the human amphibian that we all are: deeply akin to Titus Andronicus in his habitual charnel house, but capable of being more like the Titus addressed by St. Paul, who when tested comes through as pure gold. Sweeney is a sonorous, witty, and uncommonly wise Virgil guiding us on our necessary trip through, negotiations with, and occasionally triumphant dismantling of the octagon we confront daily.
Sidney Gottlieb, Professor of Communication, Sacred Heart University; Go-Dan, Isshinryu Karate-do
Michael Sweeney’s Octagon Commonweal participates in the tradition of Whitman and Ginsberg, and nods to Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” but it is very much its own poem, written in the grand old style of performance and exhortation. It is political and relevant, answering the question of why we write poetry: because it matters. 1984 is alive in 2014, and it lives in the octagon.
Kim Bridgford, author of Undone, Instead of Maps, In the Extreme, Bully Pulpit, and Doll
Michael Sweeney, a two-time Pushcart nominee, earned his M.F.A. from Brooklyn College and was a long-time student of Isshinryu Modes Karate. His collection In Memory of the Fast Break (Plain View Press, 2008) was a Finalist and Must-Read selection for the Massachusetts Center for the Book’s 2009 MASSBOOKS OF THE YEAR/POETRY Awards. “The Last Cracker,” from that volume, was selected by Stephen Dunn as runner-up for the St. Louis Poetry Center’s 48th Annual “Best Poem” contest and appeared in Margie: The American Journal of Poetry, Volume 6. He lives in Connecticut with his wife Patricia.