Reviewed by Jarret Keene: Tucson Weekly
Burgess Needle will enrich your day, your bookshelf and your mind with exquisitely crafted, emotionally nuanced poems.
Needle’s collection, Every Crow in the Blue Sky, published by Diminuendo Press in Texas, serves as an affirmation of a life well lived, with narrative poems inspired by the author's time spent in Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer in the late '60s. In short, compressed bursts of sculpted language, Needle quickly and fully communicates "exotic" yet universal moments, as he does in the teacher's-brain-turned-upside-down dialogue of "Who Collects the Eggs?"
I allowed them to handle the pictures as I looked
out the window at a small lake filled
with Lotus blossoms.
Children paddled across the water sitting on large,
Styrofoam shells that originally encased bombs.
The girl with bangs asked,
What do they do when the old ducks die?
After we kill an old duck, she explained, my mother saves
the feathers, we sell the neck and the feet
and she makes pudding from the blood.
As you can imagine, the poem explores the ways in which a teacher inevitably becomes a student, and how a child's perspective is often more realistic and more enlightening than any so-called grown-up's.
It's not all about Thailand. Needle also possesses a fantastic eye for detail, especially regarding the Sonoran Desert landscape and the people who inhabit it. One of his finest moments is the south-of-the-border character sketch of "Alejandro," about a Mexican sweatshop where the chances of the newly hired, too-sensitive white guy working there and surviving are slim to none: "He was better than the cable channels / I swear he cried when Domingo got hit with a wave of caustic ash / but I was the one who held the hose until he was clean." Still, as dark as this poem gets, Needle emphasizes the blossoming friendship between the eponymous speaker and the bologna-eating gringo, and the poem "clicks" perfectly.
OK, Tucson ain't flashy New York City, but with writers of the caliber of Burgess Needle, it has a literary community that would make any city proud.
~ Jarret Keene, Tucson Weekly
Exotic but not alienating, memoir-like but musical and unpredictable, Thai Comic Books reminds us good poetry is both timeless and borderless.
~ Jefferson Carter, Get Serious, New & Selected Poems, Chax Press, 2013
Burgess Needle is our guide through this thoughtful collection of poems recounting the sights, sounds, tastes, and aromas of Thailand in the late 1960s. He warns of the danger of landmines and cobras, yet lures us in with the scent of kerosene wicks, cigarettes and whiskey, and I found myself hearing the language of villagers, the lowing of buffalo, and the chattering monkeys as war is waged in the distance. Thai Comic Books is Needle examining his own misgivings and good intentions as he explores the hopes and fears of the people he meets.
~ Jonathan K. Rice, Iodine Poetry Journal
Thai Comic Books is an interesting, authentic, and if the term can be applied to a book of poems, a page turner.
~ Jim Watson-Gove, Editor of Minotaur Magazine
In this collection of poems, Burgess Needle's clarity of language and sharpness of image capture a period of Thai history when a relatively small band of Peace Corps volunteers were the State Department's counter foil to the thousands of U.S. military personnel stationed in that Southeast Asian nation and the thousands more visiting regularly on R&R. The volume begins with Needle's initial bus ride to the dusty little town of Nang Rong, in the poorest region of the country. It ends two years later, on a similar open-sided bus taking him back to where he came from. The two-year sojourn in between is dotted with saffron-clad monks, chirping gekko geckos, students in crisp white shirts, and a village "pink house," where a working girl from the countryside blurts out, "I do this but I good girl!" The journey is not without its amusing moments as Needle describes his attempts to teach his students about baseball or marshmallow roasts. The collection of poems in Thai Comic Books documents Needle's evolving and deepening sense of things Thai. But for those who remember, it also describes with humor and poignancy a Thailand that is all but impossible to find today.
~ Thom Huebner, Professor of Linguistics and former Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand