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