501 Minutes to Christ - Poe Ballantine (4 stars)

501 Minutes to Christ - Poe Ballantine

(Old Street Publishing)

For Poe Ballantine, the point of an essay isn’t just to pass on information or offer some straight analysis. It all works so much better when it’s given the feel of a drama, which is why this new set of stories often feels as though it’s straddling fiction and factual, as we meet ‘Poe’ at various stages of a largely boho/hobo life travelling across great swathes of his America. The tormented, wayfaring spirits of Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac are often evoked in Ballantine’s work and, like here, no review or interview piece can ever be complete without namechecking these (dead) beat writers; but there is a beauty and humour in 501 Minutes to Christ that is often lacking in that unholy pair’s oeuvre.

As Ballantine maps out ‘More Tales of an American Drifter’, we trace back to his teenage years giving plasma to help pay for his next meal while in ‘The Irving’, we learn that even as a successful writer, he seeks more. Though whether this can be achieved by punching either Norman Mailer or John Irving in the face during a public book event is uncertain. In the hobo existence, it’s not just dreams that are dying on a regular basis, and the demise of a beloved pet brings on regret and shame in him, emotions which once having piled up can lead to thoughts of suicide. ‘Advice to William Somebody’ reflects on Ballantine’s own moments of personal hell and offer a pensive counterbalance to the often hilarious incidents which have infiltrated this tramp’s life.

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