‘Chrysalis’ by Joe Lobell: A Review



Valda Organ



Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, William S. Burroughs and Richard Brautigan all wrote from and about the gritty underbelly of life, where existence is momentary and as fragile as a single strand of thread.  In Chrysalis, New York poet Joe Lobell shares his own poetic story from the same stained and immediate place that produced books like ‘On the Road, ‘The Naked Lunch’ and ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.’  I am always wary of linking and lumping writers together when I review because it can be quite spurious, and let’s face it, the similarity of comparison is always smaller than the difference.  However, it must be acknowledged that all five writers took root in the same grim but creatively fertile soil of addiction and pain, skimming the surface of society just enough to inhabit both worlds.


Joe Lobell is part observant phantom, part streetwise philosopher and part reluctant messenger. At times, his words are used as blunt instruments, cutting so deep into the marrow of the human condition that it would have challenged and impressed social critic and satirist Lenny Bruce.


As a Poet, Joe is sharp and very wise about people because he is sharp and very wise about himself. Unlike many modern writers, a few of some repute, he doesn’t pussyfoot around his own flaws in favour of ego inflation; instead, he battles and then embraces them on each page in a poetic transformation that is incredible and beautiful to behold. The formatting of this book is part of the catharsis, the entire layout is unique to this poet who is a rebel and purist remaining true to his own vision of how the work should look and be experienced.  There are many glossy poetry texts churned out by poets every day, writers who are frightened of themselves and the truths they harbor but are unwilling to bravely explore.  The result is hyperbole and trendy nonsense that while technically pretty, lacks that punch to the gut that takes you to the eye of the storm.  But Joe Lobell is completely in touch with his muse, squeaky clean and economic.  He uses metaphor as a brick through a window or a lyric phrase like a sacrament.  He has done some fancy footwork with words so that this book of poetry reads exactly like a novel.  Scent, sight, sound, all are so immediate and intimate that I was not only transported to the setting of Joe’s experiences but indeed his facility with emotional description had me inhabiting the bodies and souls of the people he knew.  If by the final page, a book can make you cry, laugh and see yourself completely naked, then you have been touched by the brilliance of a damn good writer and Joe Lobell is indeed a damn good writer.


‘Groovy and Linda’ will make you squirm if you are prone to denial of any sort but the words are like fire and as such purify as they burn your sensibilities hollow:


He don’t know

he’s walking amongst

the dead now.

The dead don’t

have the kind of sex

the living have.

Sort of a Kama Sutra

out of hell.



‘Tea in China’ will pull your heart from your chest, love and loss are all over every line but so too is the gratitude and understanding of the mental suffering of another:


Mother I adjusted to the sound of your voice I heard it again in

the voices of other people I heard the word suicide the word death

I must thank you for this You were always right and they were

always wrong I know now you suffered as I suffer This joins us

at limb and loin Though I was too young you spoke to me as an

artist or mother would not speak to a child Again I am grateful

Like the man of the man on the small boat with the woman in

his failing grasp I would not change this now—not for all the tea

in china



‘Swimming under Water’ is probably the most adept description of the poetic life, the actual process, anguish, toil and ultimate elation of the act of creating:


Writing poetry is like swimming underwater.

The resistance in the water is exhausting:

the drag on the arms and legs.

Beneath a certain depth one can no longer see

in the darkness, propelled downward by the

tension in the shoulder and neck, almost flying.

And one senses in the nearly suffocating depths a

return to what we are.



‘City Opus’ takes you to the dark but beating heart of the city and ‘One eyed Jack’ takes you into the broken heart of a woman you won’t soon forget. ‘Drunkard’s Soliloquy’ would have made John Steinbeck stand up and take notice of the prose, inner dialogue and booze infused truth.


Chrysalis is not a litany of life on the street by another swaggering bard, therefore, if this is what you are expecting, prepare for the double whammy of disappointment followed by revelation. Instead, this is a transformative book, a movement toward a light that none of us can see but still hope is there, regardless of our circumstance.  Chrysalis is a treatise on being better humans despite the constant selfish temptation to give in, to be horrible or simply lost.  To read this book is to hear the poet singing to us from outside the devouring darkness and the loss of self:


Cool Blues of Life


You’ve got to give it time man,

but the song when it comes will be so sweet

that everybody will want to listen,

that everybody will want to sing,

because they will know to themselves

in a slow place where no one else is capable

of going . . .



Magnificent Language


Poet, your voice has lost its passionate cry, but

your body lit by a halo of meaning leaves an

infinite trail behind.



If you do one revolutionary act this year, this month, this week, this day, this hour, then let it be the reading and sharing of this book with friends, enemies, lovers, haters and total strangers because Joe Lobell is leaving his own infinite trail behind…




Chrysalis: Collected Poems of Joe Lobell is currently available at Lulu.





Joe Lobell

Poet Playwright Performer multiple appearances at the Nuyorican Café including the Proofrock Festival, Knitting Factory and numerous other venues. As a performer combines Urban Poetry with rock jazz and performance. Collaborated with Jazz Musician, Conductor Composer, Butch Morris on Musical Theatre Play “Fire” produced by the Medicine Show Theatre.  Composed Poetry Radio Play “Times Square” in Collaboration with Jazz Composer and Band Leader Joe Gallant which was performed live on WBAI.  Also appeared in numerous venues with Joe Gallant and Illuminati and the Body Electric Fusion Jazz Band.  Collaborated with Blues Musician Popa Chubby on Poetry Play “City Opus” produced at Medicine Show as well as producing “City Opus” Blues Rock Poetry CD Popa Chubby. Numerous individual readings in NYC, Woodstock, and NY State venues. Chrysalis: Collected Poems of Joe Lobell currently available at Lulu.



Valda Organ

Valda Organ is the founder of Tuck Magazine and an accomplished writer, poet, editor and activist on behalf of children, the abused and the poor.

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