Steve Davenport, Pavement Saw Press, P.O. Box 6291, Columbus, OH 43206, 2006, 70 pages, $12.00.
It’s true that I was listening to Morphine’s Like Swimming
during one of my readings, but it’s also true that even without a pulsing musical background this book is full of wild,
gorgeous, rocking, yes, uncontainable noise! It’s fascinating what poets are doing with the sonnet
these days. Steve Davenport specializes in the drunken cowboy sonnet, the rooftop bomb sonnet, the goodbye
marriage bottle sonnet, the wildflower sonnet—and he adds the yodel, as in “Yodel’s What
I Call the Uncontainable Noise” and longer, rambling yodels later in the book, also called sonnets, as in “ Hundred-Line
Rooftop Sour-Mash Yodel Sonnet” and “Another Hundred-Line Drunken Cowboy Sonnet,” still pursuing core themes
of troubled love, drink, death, “masculine worth,” visual art, and poetry itself, creating a new hybrid (as in
corn) form: the yodel sonnet.
a fascinating “what if” center section where Georgia O’Keeffe and Wallace Stevens meet and woo in the prairie.
In the first poem, we see the “marriage boxes” from other poems that will inevitably lead to “divorce
boxes” if the baggage is too troublesome, and then, pretty soon, “Georgia and Wallace Move West and Argue About
Flowers,” so we know the trouble is coming. Oh, we probably knew it in the first poem:
She was driving. The road map was new.
Nothing was blue, so he kept repeating the same line,
something about the blue river of truth. He said that’s what
they were taking to their new home. It curled, he said,
through the firm ground of fiction. She shifted in her seat
and looked at a field scattered with cows like dumb luggage.
She said how do you know that? How does anyone know that?
He said he read it in a book. He didn’t know why it had to be blue.
I love that simile, “cows like dumb luggage,”
and the claim that fiction is the firmer ground through which the liquid truth can curl. Paradoxical but
true—Emily Dickinson with her slanted truth.
We published “Horse Opera 5” in RHINO 2004, and here it is linked with its four companion scenes,
in a cinematic love story western, just before “Credits roll” at the end. But there’s
more. This poet has to “name [his] mountain price” in order to live in the real world and on
“the firm ground of fiction.” In the prose poem, “My Mountain Price 1,” he says,
“They set the value I place on all I’ve carried this far, the good and the bad, inseparable from the voice I bring
it in, loud as cowboy hats and lizard-skin boots.” And then, in “My Mountain Price 2,”
we can believe in a happy ending: “That was before I met the sharpshooter on the blue horse.
She tossed some coins in the collection plate and took me home.” Somehow, it’s fitting
that the happy ending takes place surrounded by “all this central Illinois corn.” Even with
a last yodel, it’s sort of quiet, in the end, and sweet.