Attempts at political poems crash and burn all the time. The more self-righteous the poet the better the chance of failure. True believers rarely produce first rate art. There are exceptions however. Dacey’s poem News of the Day, for instance, takes three historical examples of man’s inhumanity to man, cedes some freedom to formalist techniques, slowing down a river of natural anger, and creates three hardened jewel-like pieces. He sets his inspired words into two rondels and a sonnet. The Hiroshima rondel is beyond exceptional. The last stanza burns into you,
The room reshaped itself around me,
night disguised itself as day, and words,
undone, turned ash. Gone blind by ecstasy
of sight, my eyes read fire. When spines
began to run, I turned the page and fell
into the sun.
Another curiosity in this book is the way Dacey moves almost seamlessly from formal poetry of the strictest type ( rondels, villanelles, sestinas) into languid free verse and then back into formality. The relaxed prosy narrative of Dacey’s free verse poem White Trash lures you into an ongoing joke with very serious undertones. The poet opens his piece matter-of-factly,
When middle-class blacks
moved into my family’s neighborhood
in St. Louis in the Fifties
and we and all our neighbors
moved out, the property values
soared. Lawns greened, junkers
disappeared. I realize now
I was white trash.
Maybe I’m still white trash.
My parents never told me.
Did they know? Do they know now?
I like having a clear identity,
if not the one I’d have chosen for myself.
I’d long ago accepted the notion I was
My Allen Ginsberg Story, Dacey’s humorous poem of admiration, rocks one
with fastidious details of stage props and prescribed paraphernalia. One
doesn’t usually associate the word fastidious with Allen Ginsberg. And here
lies the rub. Ginsberg apparently acted as a diva before readings with assorted
ecentric demands. The myth of artistic spontaneity slows down and breaks into component parts in this piece. Ginsberg leaves nothing to chance when it comes
to adding honey to his tea. The piece’s form, free verse lines, as Ginsberg might
have written them, almost adds another layer of irony to the poem. Here are some
lines from the heart of the composition,
Ginsberg saw me looking at the traffic jam
of paraphernalia and smiled. No doubt he
knew the effect of his phone call—beyond
bizarre, honey as an emergency. But now
it seemed the act of a consummate pro,
perfectionist even, showman not about to
let an accident break a spell. I thought of
Whitman, whose “spontaneous me” didn’t
stop him from revising some poems for
decades. He’d agree that to place a honey
jar and spoon amidst that crush would ask
for a disaster. Still smiling, Ginsberg said,
“You see what I mean.”
Leaping between the arts of dance and writing Dacey’s poem Nijinsky: A Sestina describes both the medicinal and the madness inherent in the famous dancer’s life. It turns out that Nijinsky was also a talented diarist whose words soar as they detail ruin and degradation. Dacey’s sestina in homage to Nijinsky is a short-lined poem with odd end words that Najinsky sputtered out nonsensically at one point in his life. But there is no nonsense in Dacey’s poem. The piece is a triumphant pas de deux between the poet and his subject.
One of this collections unusual pieces, The Cockroach Ball, skitters in with beautiful phrasing and organic unhesitant rhymes. Dacey uses the villanelle form here and it is lovely. Along with the obvious humor, the poet expresses his rather wondrous sensitivities. The poem works! Cockroach love in the midst of poverty—who would have thought it possible?
My advice: worship at Dacey’s Church of the Adagio for the very best in contemporary poetry. And do it as soon as possible.
You can check out the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Church-Adagio-Philip-Dacey/dp/0989705145
Dennis Daly has been published in numerous poetry journals and magazines and recently nominated for a Pushcart prize. Ibbetson Street Press published The Custom House, his first full length book of poetry in June, 2012. His second book, a verse translation of Sophocles’ Ajax, was published by Wilderness House Press in August, 2012. His third book of poems entitles Night Walking with Nathaniel was recently released by Dos Madres Press. A fourth book is nearing completion. http://dennisfdaly.blogspot.com/