Saturday, October 18, 2008

Review of Bicycles, Canoes, Drums by Dan Sklar

Review of Bicycles, Canoes, Drums

By Dan Sklar

Ibbetson Street Press 2008

25 School St. Somerville, Mass. 02143

Fans of European 19th century verse, thick with symbolism and multi-syllabic, will find little to love in Dan Sklar’s Bicycles, Canoes, Drums. Sklar’s poetry could be characterized as American Primitive, clean and bracing as creek water. Like Whitman, Sklar celebrates the mystery and profundity of the everyday. This is “guy” poetry, muscularly chronicling the days and to-do list of the contemporary American male, helplessly and joyfully committed to the challenges of raising a houseful of boys, teaching sleepy-eyed college students, and handling the ignominies of manuscript rejection letters.

In Teacher, My Son is Not a Robot, Sklar tackles a standardized-test-obsessed school system: “So his math is not perfect/and he writes some letters backwards/but man can he read and his poems are poetry/and they made the teachers cry/that was all I needed to hear.”

Sklar takes on the mid-life heavy-lifting for us all in The Importance of Sweat:

“It is important to sweat//to be in a union//to spend time wandering the streets//to let yourself go to hell and get in fights/and lose a job and lie on the floor//and listen to old Thelonious Monk records/and smoke cigars and stare blankly and/regret everything you ever did/even the good things.”

Sklar unerringly sights a target and brings it down at our feet, gutting it of all extraneous parts. He strips middle-class life, its complexities, its fears, to the basics, into an ecstatic distillation. The last line of What I Think About Sometimes is: “When your bicycle is stolen, walk.” A timely reminder that that we must “repo” our happiness back from those who may hold the state of our 401k’s, but not our lives, in their hands.

Sklar’s poems tumble and sing with enormously universal appeal.

Reviewed by Lisa Beatman, author of Manufacturing America: Poems from the Factory Floor (Ibbetson Street Press 2008).

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