Book Review by Charles Rammelkamp
A Midwest Girl Thanks Patti Smith by Pam Davenport
Reviewed by Charles Rammelkamp
A Midwest Girl Thanks Patti Smith
Slipstream Press, 2019
$10.00, 32 pages
What a terrific title for a book! It’s also the title of a poem, which begins:
Patti stole a steak in the Village
Wrote poetry at the Chelsea Hotel
I knew I only wanted
To be a wild mustang
Davenport’s poems are wild and witty reflections on life, femininity, death, and everything in between the covers. “At sixteen I couldn’t wait / to be felt up,” she writes in “I Was an Impatient Girl,” and in “Married in a Fever” she recalls:
Maybe I was hard on your beloved
Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme hardtop.
It was stifling as only August in Phoenix
can be, and you said it one too many times:
Be gentle with the door, and I thought
really, this chunk of steel going to break?
So I opened and slammed and opened
and slammed as I stood on the hot asphalt….
It’s a hilarious story about getting married that ends: “Forty years later and / that fever never broke.” Thank you, Patti Smith!
Some of the most affecting poems in this collection are about the author’s mother, focusing on her demise. About half a dozen poems – “For My Mother,” “Curling,” “A Talk with Friends,” “Dancing with the Dead” and “Why We Eat” among them – are meditations on their relationship. Some evoke the atmosphere of grief, the odors of nursing homes, the rituals of death. Others are tributes to her mother’s moxie. “For My Mother” begins:
As the nurse removed her vomit-streaked gown
my mother raised he skinny arm,
stared at it as if she were Odette
as if this were Swan Lake,
and said, Well isn’t that something,
it looks just like a chicken leg.
“A Talk with friends” addresses the moment of her death, the need for privacy in the midst of commotion, while nurses are trying to be “supportive.”
I need my weeping, sobbing,
sniveling, need to be alone
with my mother,
who heaved a coal scuttle
into our fireplace morning and evening…
This last recalls the poem “Curling,” the author’s childhood in Scotland, her father in the navy, her mother taking care of the family; an officer’s wife, the author’s mother would dress for occasions, the author watching as she applied makeup. “Why We Eat” is a riff on a family friend’s lasagna brought to the family after the mother’s funeral.
But there is also so much joie de vivre in A Midwest Girl Thanks Patti Smith, so much YES! My favorite? “Women,” the affirmative menstrual flow:
The moon isn’t just a light fixture,
a rock, a wife,
an oddity in the sky.
When our moon rises red,
phones light up,
girlfriends share where they watch:
beside the ocean, from a driveway,
on the east-facing patio of a steak joint.
We know her, our moon.
We know quickening
in our bodies, we know abundance,
life streaming through us and out,
the rich flow of crimson blood.
On our nights we are abundant,
engorged, voracious for food, for love,
for the rising and falling tide.
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was recently published by FutureCycle Press. An e-chapbook has also recently been published online Time Is on My Side (yes it is) –http://poetscoop.org/manuscrip/Time%20Is%20on%20My%20Side%20FREE.pdf
Book Review by Matthew A. Hamilton
Soundtrack to a Fleeting Masculinity by Benjamin Schmitt
reviewed by Matthew A. Hamilton
Clare Songbirds Publishing House, 2018
After reading Benjamin Schmitt’s third collection of poetry, Soundtrack To A Fleeting Masculinity, I was immediately drawn to the words of Fr. Dwight Longenecker: “In a world that seems increasingly meaningless, poetry helps you dig deep.”
Schmitt’s poetry forces us to dig deep. With a clear and accessible voice, Schmitt introduces us to “this collapsing civilization” that we call the United States of America. And if you watch the news, read newspapers, or listen to the radio as I do, you, too, must be astounded by all the irrational speech on social media, the street violence, and the incompetence of our national leaders, what Schmitt calls “the archaic grime of the republic.”
Most of this grime, I am ashamed to say, Schmitt contributes to men, although a few profane women occasion this poetry collection as well. The poems are composed of 80 numbered tracks. Reading the majority of them out loud reminds me of listening to a heavy metal band ranging against the harsh reality of men today: immature boys dominated by anger, sexual frustration, and hopelessness. In “Track 52,” for example, we learn that some kid named Chris discovers “his father smoking weed/at his workbench.” Understandably, Chris, given no other direction, ends up “with drunkenness and a metallic smell/that could almost be seen in the dark mind.” Additionally, in “Track 53,” we discover three disturbing individuals: a husband that “enjoyed the beatings,” a boyfriend, after watching what seems to be hard core porn, enjoys “slapping her during sex,” and a female same sex couple absorbed in an inordinate relationship “in cloaks of arm fat.” “Track 62” an all too familiar scene of a school shooting: “his cherished bullet was in the barrel/light of God burst.”
This grime also manifests itself in America’s politicians, those individuals who are supposed to be exemplars of civility, professionalism, and ethical standards, but often submit to unruly desires, or make reprehensible and, sometimes, risky decisions. In “Track 35,” Schmitt opines how he feels about contemporary politicians: “The Democrats are really donkeys/and the Republicans are really elephants” And again, in “Track 54,” the manipulative politician wants us to believe he’s working for the public’s interests, but what he really wants to do are things like shutting down “every public library and make them brothels filled with/sexy librarians.”
The crux of Schmitt’s latest collection can be found, other than in the title of the collection itself, in “Track 13” and “Track 68,” what Schmitt’s calls a “fleeting masculinity.” In other words, many men today are not men at all, but immature little boys unwilling to face life’s responsibilities.
All is not lost, however, according to Schmitt. In “Track 55,” he writes: “The United States is a landscape/seeking reconciliation.” In other words, most people living in the US are good people and want to do their part in keeping their country strong and prosperous by getting rid of corruption and building better leaders. And who may be the voice of the people? “Track 78” provides an answer: “maybe poets give/dignity to the blackness.”
Schmitt’s words give meaning to a meaningless world. He provides hope to generations of young Americans whom have lost hope. Thomas Merton wrote: “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” Perhaps by losing yourself in this beautiful and timely collection, you will find, as I have, and as Schmitt promises in “Track 80,” “the full measure of hope.”
Matthew A. Hamilton holds an MFA from Fairfield University and a MSLIS from St. John’s University. He is a 6-time Pushcart Prize nominee. His stories and poems have appeared in a variety of national and international journals, including Atticus Review, Coe Magazine, Noctua Review, Burnt Bridge, Boston Literary Magazine, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Muddy River Poetry Review, and Tuck Magazine. His chapbook, The Land of the Four Rivers, published by Cervena Barva Press, won the 2013 Best Poetry Book from Peace Corps Writers. His second poetry collection, Lips Open and Divine, was published in 2016 by Winter Goose. He and his wife live in Richmond, VA.
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