Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Sunday, July 1, 2007

David Baker: "Patriotics"

Today, as we begin July and peer forward into the week at Wednesday’s Independence Day celebrations, I strongly recommend to readers David Baker’s “Patriotics,” a powerful poem concerning the Fourth of July festivities at which citizens participate in every county across the country. Baker’s poem is drawn from his 1991 collection, Sweet Home, Saturday Night (University of Arkansas Press), and was later reprinted in an anthology, Like Thunder: Poets Respond to Violence in America (University of Iowa Press, 2002), edited by Virgil Suarez and Ryan Van Cleave. Please visit the Academy of American Poets web page to read the text and listen to Baker’s performance of the poem at the AWP conference in Atlanta this past March.

“Patriotics” veers from the expected in its opening lines, as it shakes readers awake: “Yesterday a little girl got slapped to death by her daddy, / out of work, alcoholic, and estranged two towns down river.” Indeed, the author knows what he is doing with this beginning, and he acknowledges its impact in the following line: “America, it’s hard to get your attention politely.”

The address to “America”—along with the poem’s visual appearance of long lines and sentences—suggests an influence by Walt Whitman, and one wonders whether Baker’s poem provides a contemporary parallel to the old bard’s many poetic epistles to his fellow countrymen. Indeed, we see some of Whitman’s other tactics employed in these stanzas as well, such as his tendency toward delivering lists of items that signify a situation or scene. In the fourth stanza the poet scans those he notices around him at the county’s staging of a fireworks spectacle—“the acned faces of neglect, / the halter-tops and ties, the bellies, badges, beehives, / jacked-up cowboy boots, yes, the back-up singers of democracy.”

As has been chronicled elsewhere, David Baker often exhibits his fondness for Whitman and periodically reveals his reliance upon the Father of American Poetry for influence in his poetry. However, here readers recognize a subtle attempt by the poet to tie together the times of Whitman and America’s past, including the earlier history of America’s origins, with the nation now on display around him. Baker even resurrects “the soul of Thomas Paine” in one reference. In fact, the poem transitions from a father who beats his daughter to death in the first lines to a remark pertaining to previous generations of fathers, including the Founding Fathers, near the close of the poem: “Our fathers’ dreams come true as nightmare.”

“Patriotics” apparently challenges the unique nature of a fireworks blowout as the central activity for celebration: “our country’s perfect holiday, so direct a metaphor for war / we shoot off bombs, launch rockets from Drano cans, / spray the streets and neighbors’ yards with the machine-gun crack / of fireworks, with rebel yells and beer.” Moreover, the poem seems to seek connections between this holiday environment, full of explosions that simulate scenes of warfare, and the personal domestic violence detailed in the poem’s opening or the nation’s domestic violence alluded to in other spots throughout the poem.

Despite its long free-verse lines, this poem’s language remains rich with rhythm and sings with lyrical elements, especially the numerous examples of alliteration, assonance, and consonance within the lines. However, the word selection throughout this poem often jars readers from the lull of lilting language. Vocabulary choices that frequently contain harsh or unpleasant connotations continue from the first line to the last: “slapped,” “death,” “alcoholic,” “estranged,” “blow up,” “shot to the chops,” “dribbling chaw,” “sweaty,” “war,” “shoot off bombs,” “launch rockets,” “machine-gun crack,” “rebel yells,” “neglect,” “attack,” “pointless,” “terrifying,” “arsenal,” “moved to tears,” “convicting,” “poor child,” “welfare plot,” “wilting prayers,” “nightmare,” “bomb blasts,” “plague,” and “agape.” Clearly, “Patriotics” is not a typical poem about how glorious the Fourth of July festivities appear. Indeed, the poem’s underlining thread threatens to call into question the meaning of the term in its own title.

As with Whitman, who witnessed great anguish and the wide-spread violence visited upon one another by his nation’s citizens in the Civil War, Baker observes the presence of strife in today’s nation beyond this special day of observance and throughout the entire year: “We’ll clean up fast, drive home slow, and tomorrow / get back to work, those of us with jobs, convicting the others / in the back rooms of our courts and malls.” Nevertheless, like Whitman, Baker appears to maintain a measured presence—though perhaps he does not quite share Whitman’s almost undying supply of optimism—and a resolve as he looks toward the future, again addressing his country at the end of the poem: “America, I’d swear I don’t believe in you, but here I am, / and here you are, and here we stand again, agape.”

What a surprising final word to find for this poem, and what a correct ending! “Agape”: an adjective that registers astonishment and wonder—though published in 1991, one might even suggest “shock and awe”—at the pyrotechnics performance before the speaker, as well as in regard to the position in which he believes his nation now stands. However, marvelously enough, “agape,” as a noun derived from the Greek for “selfless love,” also denotes deep emotional affection, and as a theological term, it alludes to a religious sense of community associated with the communal meal held to express Christian fellowship, a rite once undertaken to commemorate the Last Supper. Thus, the poet elevates the ritual gathering of citizens to celebrate their nation’s independence on the Fourth of July as members of a local community to a sacred level, a spiritual upper echelon at which more positive accomplishments might be expected and, significantly, perhaps where one could hold out hope for the future.

David Baker is Professor of English and holds the Thomas B. Fordham Chair of Creative Writing at Denison University. He is the author of eight books of poetry, most recently Midwest Eclogue (Norton, 2005), as well as two critical books, Heresy and the Ideal: On Contemporary Poetry and Meter in English: A Critical Engagement. Earlier this year, Graywolf Press published Radiant Lyre: On Lyric Poetry, which he co-edited with Ann Townsend. Baker's works have appeared in numerous journals, including Atlantic Monthly, Georgia Review, The Nation, The New Republic, The New Yorker, Paris Review, Poetry, and Yale Review.

Baker was the featured poet in the Spring/Summer 2002 (Volume III, Number 2) issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review, where readers also will find an essay on poetry by him. Additionally, an extended review of David Baker’s poetry appears in the same issue of VPR.

No comments: