18 December 2012

So Quiet the Earth, by David Lee

I discovered David Lee's poetry on the Internet, which, for me, is how it often happens. I read as many of his poems as I could find online, excited and delighted by their rough reality, the dialogue, the non-traditional language and subject matter. Irreverence from a hog-farmer/preacher.

"Amanda Strayhorn, Reverend's Wife," was the first one I found. I told a friend of mine that it was the longest poem I'd ever read without being threatened by a teacher. In addition, it's probably the longest poem I've ever read without stopping--a poem I couldn't put down, a page-turner. This tale of a pompous preacher whose wife became famous for the articles she wrote about their sex life and how that all played out in their lives and those of their neighbors is funny, thought-provoking, masterful, beautiful, and perfect. There are probably some more adjectives I could add, but after all, verbs are more effective. "Amanda Strayhorn" simply skewered me.

Some excerpts:
...they were a typical unhappily married couple
with five obstreperous children whose birthdays
were as much a mystery to the Reverend
as Greek, dishwashing, or putting the toilet lid down... 
...he could take off his glasses before engaging
the bedroom and proceed to enjoy the wonders
of conjugal delight through deprivation of sight
which would intensify the inner light of spiritual union
and thereby expand his prowess to the Lord’s great approval... 
...every Saturday afternoon after he worked himself
into an erotic frenzy writing sermons on Satanic temptation
of Baptist youth into the fires of hell through visions
of sexual degradation upon which he expounded with vigor...
This poem led me to read "Nighthunting with John," a poem about "...hunting / hogfeed with John / up and down the black alleys / splitting a case of Lucky..."

I also read "The Chain Letter," an excellent fable about luck, the futility of anger, and superstition, among other things.

I searched my library to see what David Lee I could find. They had only one volume, a book published in 2004, So Quietly the Earth. As I sniffed around in it, I was initially disappointed. It looked to me like Mr. Lee had deserted the wondrous narrative forms I'd been enjoying. Quietly is a kind of ode to the Southwestern United States, it would seem. The poems that I have read so far celebrate the millions of years of geology, the pushing-up of mountains, the ancient seas that once covered what is now desert.

As I continue to read this book, I find that I really like these. Lee has the kind of connection to nature that seems to come to us old men. Furthermore, his voice is not missing or changed--it surfaces quite recognizably--he is in the presence of unspeakable grandeur and must himself be quiet, and let the Earth write his lines.

Through the pages runs a series of short poems entitled "While Walking," plus a number. For example:
While Walking (V)

Luke 18:16

Do you think the rocks are listening to us?
I don't know. Do rocks hear?
The ones that are alive do.

One of the poems that caused me to reconsider my abovementioned disappointment is "Ode Beneath a Hummingbird Feeder." This poem has little to do with geology, but reveals a reverence for hummingbirds that at least equals my own. Here's the final stanza:

Oh, arrogant little warrior
if I had a naked weapon
I could brandish like yours
I, too, would suffer
no foolish rival suitors
sipping at my ruby fount. 

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