Here Is An Obscure Book of Poetry I Like
I only learned about Steve Davenport’s Uncontainable Noise because it was published by tiny Pavement Saw Press in 2006, and Pavement Saw Press was based in Columbus, Ohio, where I happened to live, and the assistant editor there (who was also a night manager at the Kroger’s supermarket where I sometimes shopped for groceries) was taking classes from a friend of mine, and pressed a copy on my friend, and soon my friend was pressing copies on everyone he knew. And, as it happens, the night my copy was pressed on me, my second child was unexpectedly (and dangerously) born three months early, by emergency C-section. And so it was that I found myself in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, one hand in an isolette, those fingers touching a baby the size of my hand, and the other hand holding a copy of Uncontainable Noise, reading poems with such muscular titles as “Arrange Their Sea-Smooth Bones In Fourteen Broken Rows” and “Last Night My Bed A Bed of Whiskey Going Down” and “Murfy Blesses The Cowboy Of Drunken Love’s Love.” The preferred form of the poems was the Yodel, which is, as best I can tell a fourteen line poem of twelve syllables per unrhymed line, which contains at least one if not twenty-seven words of the relative intensity of slaughter, bomb, swagger, massacre, exploding, or, in the case of “Watch The Hot Young Women On Puritan Benches,” blow, beat, and bang bang. The rest of the poems take such forms as the horse opera, the clap-without-cure, the mountain price, the hayseed flaneur, and the hundred-line drunken cowboy sonnet. And I almost forgot to tell you about thirteen-page cycle of contentious love poems, the lovers in question being Georgia O’Keeffe and Wallace Stevens, who do things like drive to Holy Ghost, Illinois; perform their love in trees; move West and argue about flowers; make like monsters over New Mexico; go for their guns; plead with the seven angels of confusion; drink outside a bowling alley; and undo their bundle of hiss.
Steve Davenport, I came to learn, was once a Jack Kerouac scholar of the Ph.D.ing variety–something I imagine couldn’t have made for an easy road in the academy–and here he still was, swinging hard in his fifties, publishing his first book on the tiny press that offered, and writing, still, with the urgency of the Beats (but without, gratefully, their tendency toward the flaccid and the easy.) In the years since, I’ve done two readings with him, and he’s wiped the stage with me both times. The poems he writes are crowd-pleasers, unapologetically brusque and manly not in the Johnny Depp way so much as the old-guy-picking-a-fight-at-the-end-of-the-bar way. He’s brave enough, in other words, to channel the personas we’re not supposed to enjoy anymore, to turn a stereotype inside out until we see the real hurt it’s hiding, and to see poetry not as an exercise in high art so much as Saturday double-feature, the little kids and the popcorn and the big kids necking in the back rows and Mom across the street cheating on Dad and Dad cussing at the cartoon sailor he’s about to punch in the mouth and regret punching a half-second later. It’s sad that the exigencies of American publishing or whatever and whatever else haven’t delivered him the crowd. Or not yet. It’s early still, right?, and doesn’t the Internet make all things possible ever since God and the military invented it? So here I am, trying to do my part to move the last of the original 1046 copies (you can only purchase one at the Pavement Saw Press site, because all the other outlets have sold out), and, maybe, spur a second printing to press somewhere.
Here’s “Happy Goddamn Goodbye Marriage Bottle Sonnet”:
I turn the apartment key on my awful wish:
the goodbye goddamn blank of nothing scrawled with threat,
no mirror lipsticked burn in hell, no sonnets smeared
in blood on the bed. No bed: clothes hangars, cardboard.
Here’s the short list I can’t erase like furniture
from a room: your voice, your face a fist through a wall,
my slamming doors and jumping from cars at stop signs,
my silence worse than bazookas, than getting beat
you said by your ex-husband in your seventh month,
that thing I used out bed once like a brick: cunt.
Here’s some stuff I can’t find: rage, voice, that tequila
your friend gave me. I still can’t drive a country road
and scream. Whassamatter white boy you said. Fuck you.
My plan: Throw a bottle through the window. Begin.