Work Title: Blue Collar Town: Poetry for the Real World
Work Author(s): Todd Mercer
Byline: Todd Mercer
Out of roughly three hundred books received in advance of this roundup, three of the very best showcase Pittsburgh-based talents. No, we don't know anyone from there. The highlighted poets don't succeed by perfecting their iambic pentameter---that parlor trick has no bearing on the lives of regular people. If there is a chance to appeal to a wider audience, poets ought to be striving for breadth. The New York establishment/Iowa Workshop crowd barely registers among these twenty-four recommended picks, though a handful of the willfully tuned-in who've passed through MFA manufacturing operations unhomogenized are represented here too. .
The Idea or uniting concept is everything, more so than language tricks; the substance itself is more important than the delivery vehicle of any particular formal structure. The point of poetry is communication of condensed ideas, so knowingly sending readers scurrying for a dictionary, or worse yet, discouraging interest altogether through elitism means the poet has failed. If the audience is only a tenure committee, then the poet has no message and may be better suited for selling insurance. Real poets experience life directly, perhaps putting themselves in the way of danger in the process. They read and learn, talk and listen; they care if the Idea is getting across, the one which could make a difficult world better. .
Employment Office: The Daily Grind.
Middlebrow heavyweight Jim Daniels puts the buckle on the Rust Belt experience with a remarkable pair of books, In Line for the Exterminator (Wayne State University Press, 978-0-8143-3381-5) and Revolt of the Crash Test Dummies (Eastern Washington University Press, 978-1-59766-024-2). Daniels' main subject is a '60s-era Detroit of ubiquitous assembly lines and racial uneasiness. At the center of Exterminator is a sometimes unemployed autoworker whose personal decline parallels that of the industrial Midwest. As in "Digger Loses His First Tooth," he can't stand to face facts: "I'm not losing it, you shout. / In the mirror, a gap-toothed derelict / stares back, the one who betrayed you." Crash Test Dummies is largely about childhood friends who've since suffered untimely deaths or other haywire fates. Even parish authorities don't meet expectations: "He had lame-ass dope, but it must've been / hard for a priest to get good dope, every- / body pushing oregano and faith on you." Daniels leavens pervasive calamities with welcoming yellow porch lights, unquenched rays of hope. .
The Romance of Happy Workers (Coffee House Press, 978-1-56689-214-8) comes from Anne Boyer, who edits the poetry journal Abraham Lincoln. This absurdist/populist/neo-Romantic concoction cribs Walt Whitman ("Once I pass'd through a populous city"), and builds a thought-provoking piece by intercutting lines "stolen" from Carl Sandburg and Bertolt Brecht. The poet speaks of herself in the third person more frequently than anyone since Bob Dole, creating a playfully sarcastic distance with lines like: "Anne Boyer has read Wretched of the Earth" and "Anne Boyer rolled her eyes." .
Alice Major's The Office Tower Tales (University of Alberta Press, 978-0-88864-502-9) is a modern cross of Arabian Nights and Canterbury Tales which uses a corporation in an Alberta city as a backdrop for stories in verse which deal with organizational politics...