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Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

Book cover for Another Way to Play
Book cover for Another Way to Play

Introduction by Eileen Myles

From a '60s-era verse letter to John Coltrane to a 2017 examination of Life After Trump, Another Way to Play collects more than a half century of engaged, accessible, and deeply felt poetry from a writer both iconoclastic and embedded in the American tradition. In the vein of William Carlos Williams and Frank O'Hara, Michael Lally eschews formality in favor of a colloquial idiom that pops straight from the page into the reader's synapses. This is the definitive collection of verse from a poet who has been around the world and back again: verse from the streets, from the political arena, from Hollywood, from the depths of the underground, and from everywhere in between. Lally is not a poet of any one school or style, but a poet of his own inner promptings. Whether casual, impassioned, or ironic, his words are unmistakably his own. Here is a poet who can hold two opposed ideas in mind simultaneously, and fuse them, with pathos and humor, into his own idiosyncratic verbal art. As Lally himself writes: "I suffered, I starved, and so did my kids, / I did what I did for poetry I thought / and I never sold out, and even when I did / nobody bought."

Book cover for Another Way to Play
Book cover for Another Way to Play

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“This is an awesome book and you should read every word of it.”

“Michael Lally tells all of the secrets. Yours, mine, his, everyone’s. Everything you ever hoped that people wouldn’t know about the real you, all of the thoughts that have nested in your head your whole life, he’s got down on paper. He spares no one. When he writes, 'I REFUSE TO LET WHAT I’VE ALWAYS WANTED KEEP ME FROM HAVING WHAT I’VE ALWAYS WANTED' Lally guides to honesty. His writing is like a cleanse for the spirit, things coming loose inside you, while telling you, 'It’s’s alright.'”

“Michael Lally’s risky, talky, autobiographic, ethnic, disarming, poignant, desperate, consoling, elegiac, wily, vernacular lyrics have been charming and challenging the poetry world for half a century. 'What we know is the way we fall': From South Orange to SoHo to Hollywood & back to Jersey, from youthful exuberance to geriatric trauma, Lally’s salt of the earth work is spiked by caraway, cayenne, thyme, & sage — with a twist.”

“Michael Lally chisels his poems the way Maya Lin makes a memorial or Leonard Cohen a song. This precision reveals pathways to all we were afraid to say, to the truth. His deep forays into liberation mark him as one of the most essential poets of our era. He worries over difference until he can show that it's all about love, which never dies. His poems are bookmarks in my life.”

“Michael Lally is our faithful antidote to the politics of forgetting. When his wondrous chapbook My Life appeared on the scene in 1975, it woke a whole city of young poets to its standard of impassioned, activist aspiration. The standard would be justified in the life. Through all the regressive decades that followed, whether in New York, Los Angeles, or communities between, Lally continued to fashion a poetry of engaged and egalitarian civic ecstasy, which makes his work as indispensable now as it is irresistible. He is a great poet, not of his generation only, but of those fervent democratic vistas he restores to view.”

Charisma, the title of one of Michael Lally’s early publications, is the perfect noun for this gregarious, theatrical, indefatigable, funny and sometimes pugnacious master of the American idiom. Such amazing works as “It’s Not Nostalgia – It’s Always There,” “Before You Were Born,” and “The Village Sonnets” provide all the evidence you need to link Lally with Frank O’Hara and Ted Berrigan, 'two Irish-American / poets like me, haunted by Catholic guilt / and reams of sainthood and sex – or / sexhood and saint.'”

“A life's work in poetry is an achievement and a manifesto. Another Way to Play is Michael Lally's manifesto in powerful poems that allude to rebels, revolutionaries and the occasional miscreant whose achievements served as model for Lally's adventures in peace making, music loving, erotic affairs and marriages, politics, fatherhood, brotherhood, "the hood" as defined by a working class New Jersey Irish American upbringing. Lally's youthful beat rarely prepares the reader for his erudition, his reflection on this culture and his deep understanding of performance (he's also an accomplished actor) so it is good to see those sophisticated works made center stage. This is a huge book filled with poems that insist, digress, chastise and provocate. Another Way to Play's manifesto is a "life in poetry" and we are better for it.”

“Michael Lally. When I was a young poet I said, 'He's our Walt Whitman,' the way he was huge, containing multitudes. Working class guy, movie star, father, gay and straight, lover not a fighter. But it's the poems I mean. And this is his Leaves of Grass, a life's work with life to go of course. Life To Go, not a bad title, thanks, Lally. He inspires like that, immediacy. He's always telling the poems directly to you, only to you. You can always go back to them. But you can't. They change. "Go ahead," try them, the way they hold you. That's what I mean. It's all here in the poems, and they are all for you, because Michael Lally has your back and he will never let you down.”

“These poems bear witness to the laughter, love, fear, certainties, celebrations and ever-growing artistry of an extraordinary man over the course of decades as he moves through the wonders and disappointments of this world. The poems of Michael Lally are sometimes humorous, sometimes confrontational and provocative, always honest, well-crafted and filled with emotion so raw and pure you can’t help but be moved with him to tears, to rage and defiance, to fear, vulnerability or resignation because sooner than later you’ll start to recognize your own fragile heart hidden somewhere in a stanza. What an amazing, revealing collection!”

Michael Lally

A former jazz musician, hollywood actor, and radical organizer, the New Jersey-born MICHAEL LALLY has worn many hats over the course of his life. But throughout it all, he has written accessible, deeply felt poetry. Themes of identity, love, success, and failure pervade through his body of work, but always with wry humor and the simple grace that is the mark of deep thought. Lally is the author of over thirty books of poetry and prose, including Stupid Rabbits (1971), White Life (1980), It's Not Nostalgia (1999) and Swing Theory (2015). Some of his poetry is collected in Another Way to Play. Lally is the recipient of the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, among others. He lives in Maplewood, New Jersey.