Many if not most writers have more than one voice--lyric, dramatic or narrative. Few have succeeded in all three, but it's always a joy to find such an emerging talent. Edward Steinhardt is an experienced poet, editor, and journalist, with just the background to write well in any voice. Standing Pelican: Key West Poems & Stories shows a talent unique in its many modulations in poetry, fiction and drama (or docu-drama).
The opening section of Standing Pelican contains a dozen poems, most with Key West settings, and all strikingly different. Steinhardt's poetry celebrates today's Key West in Narrative imagery and dialogue. The lines are spare, cinematic, on themes of a Tarot reader, urban bars, and Key West settings. Emotion is tempered, unlike that of modernist Wallace Stevens in whose "Farewell to Florida" (a century ago) "Key West sank downward under massive clouds," and who "hated the weathery yawl" and "the vivid blooms" of that city.
Contrast also Stevens' "The Idea of Order at Key West" which begins with a singing woman (the Sea) and ends almost romantically by summoning a fisherman who "Methodically cast/Their blind lines into the sea."
Steinhardt excels in the short story, with eight delightful examples. In his prize-winning "A Square Green Patch of Earth," are surprising transitions in the narrative, about an elderly couple and the stark, subtle symbolism of a dark ibis. The plot is quiet in tone and flow, and beginning and end are skillfully joined together.
The next story, "Julian," has crisp images of Key West, with intense personal observation and subtle characterization. Its plot involves fresh, moving memories and affectionate relationships of mind and heart. The next tale is set in the Hemingway House; it is totally different, with almost continuous dialogue and authentic present-day exchanges on the old and new. Still another story unwinds with fascinating contrasts in age and youth, an old man and a young boy.
"The Rooming House" resembles Tennessee Williams' style in a series of ruminations and musing on rooming house life and characters, reminiscent of Williams' life in St. Louis and Key West. The next story, "Johnny Bible" has an aura of mystery, with strong suspense and character contrasts. The plot revolves around an eccentric protagonist and a long-awaited letter--and an unusual ending.
The final story, "The Trials of January Jones," is longer and more intricate. ("January" is a woman.) The leading character's trials are numerous, credible; yet she endures a life of sadness among the customers in her diner. The revelation of her secret past life will surprise readers.
Standing Pelican closes with a strikingly original one-act play, or docu-drama--a 45-page conversation with Tennessee Williams. Here, too, Steinhardt is a consummate craftsman as an interviewer of Williams, who vacationed in Key West in his youth and bought a house there in 1949. The play is titled "A Summer Place," a setting found in a number of Williams' works. Steinhardt provides an enlightening introduction, with a cast of ten strongly delineated characters. Steinhardt is particularly well-grounded in this work, since he lived in both Central West St. Louis and Key West where Williams spent most of his life.
Altogether Edward Steinhardt's Standing Pelican is a thoroughly entertaining, well-written collection, highly original in its scope and style. Steinhardt "reads" much better than many, if not most writers--even (at least to this reviewer) better than Faulkner.
The Unique Voices of Edward Steinhardt
A Review by Charles Guenther
An excerpt from
Standing Pelican: Key West Poems & Stories
"So that's the window from which Jane Mason jumped?" asks the reporter.
"No, she fell."
"What's the difference?"
"Not much. If you fall, you're supposed to land on all fours, like a cat. If you jump, it's just goodbye and hello Jesus."
"Exactly. Anyway, that didn't happen here."
(The two move down to the first floor verandah. The lighthouse looms above the yard).
"There is biography in everything," says the man to the reporter. "Take the lighthouse. There's the picture of Hemingway standing in front of it. In fact, stand right over there. There you go. That's where he was standing when the picture was taken."
"Wasn't there a mention of the lighthouse in To Have and Have Not?"
"Yeh, there was. But if truth be known, the lighthouse was some pre-fab thing the Army Corps of Engineers put up and took down for practice."
""Well, I guess that would explain the shipwrecks..."
"Precisely. Lots of tension between the Corps and the Navy, you know. They finally bricked the thing up for good--you know--another government contract job."
"So Hemingway did use it to find his way home nights from Sloppy Joe's?"
"Come on, would you walk home after Happy Hour all the way from lower Duval? Hemingway got a ride."
"Well, sure. How do you think he met Martha Gellhorn?"
--from the short story, "Across the Street and Into the Palms"