Thursday, February 02, 2012


By Bruce Dethlefsen
101 pages / 81 poems / $16
ISBN: 978-0-9846568-0-6
Cowfeather Press
PO Box 620216
Middleton, WI 53561

Review by – Charles P. Ries
Word Count = 514

I was thinking as I read Bruce Dethlefsen’s Unexpected Shiny Things, what makes a poet great? Certainly they have to find the poetic form effortless and created their own distinct voice. They must be able to reveal mysteries, or prompt the creation of more mysteries. And most capable poets can certainly do all or some of that. But as I read Dethlefsen’s latest book of poetry I found myself smiling in bemusement, or nodding in agreement, or amazed at his wisdom, or saddened at his heartbreak. I wondered how does he do that? Not many poets have this effect on me. So how is it that he does? I believe it is a coupling of awareness and deep love of mankind. Awareness without love is tyranny, so too is love without awareness. The great yearning depth I feel in Dethlefsen’s work is his long-lived, hard-earned, deep-hearted wisdom. Not all good poets have this, but all the great ones do.

Unexpected Shiny Things is broken into five sections that broadly define the thematic mood of Dethlefsen’s mind: Stars on Strings, Golden Coffee Sunlight, Sifting Starlight, Unexpected Shiny Things, and Chasing the Moon.

Again and again, he takes us from the common to the sublime, from the ordinary to that transcendent and numinous. There are great and important poems in this collection: Forgotten, Lily Pads, Mountain Dreams, Hummingbirds, Crows Mate for Death, How I Hang On and 1950 to call out just a few. Some of these mind blowing masterpieces. Here is “1950”: “at night / my mother bathed me in a white tub / scrubbed me with white soap / rubbed me in a white towel / hugged and plugged me / into pajamas and the white sheets // an act to kind / so common / it barely even happened”.

His poem “Hummingbirds”: “ flagella move so fast / they think that hummingbirds are dead / hummingbirds know that we are dead / we mostly think that trees are dead / the trees think the water’s dead / the water things the rocks are dead / the rocks thing the mountains and the world are dead / the world thinks the universe is dead / the universe thinks that god is dead / and god who knows what god thinks // you know sometimes though / I think / I make the world go ‘round / simply by walking on it / and pushing backwards just a little / with each deliberate step”.

In Unexpected Shiny Things, Dethlefsen flows from the concrete to ethereal. He orbits around the collective unconscious like a Jungian astronaut - his interior radar big enough to find meaning in both the great moments and the small nuances of life. This is the blessing of the mature poet – one who has lived hundreds of lives and can bring this diversity of experience to us as a cascading pool of images for us to soak in. Dethlefsen is an exceptional poet. His writer’s voice is so common and plain spoken that it lulls the reader down his rabbit hole and out again with a winter fresh mind.
Charles P. Ries lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His narrative poems, short stories, interviews and poetry reviews have appeared in over two hundred print and electronic publications. He has received four Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing. He a founding member of the Lake Shore Surf Club, the oldest fresh water surfing club on the Great Lakes ( You may find additional samples of his work by going to:

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