Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Pantoums by Dennis Daly

by Dennis Daly
2018 Dennis Daly
Dos Madres Press
Somerville MA
ISBN  978-1-030029-85-3
Softbound, 67 pages (including notes)
No price given

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

One Poet whose work I always enjoy is Dennis Daly.  Whether he’s writing about experiences in Afghanistan, or in his habitat of Salem or translating Ajax from the Greek, it is always interesting and most certainly educational.

In his latest book he turns his focus to pantoums, not my favorite form of poetry, but under his skillful writing they become both fascinating and enjoyable.

As he notes in his introduction, “Originating in Malay, prior to the fifteenth century, the pantoum probably developed from an oral tradition of rhythmic and repetitive rowing songs.”

Daly, in educating the uninitiated to this form of poetry goes on to say, “Pantoum are made up of quatrains. The modern form requires no set number of stanzas. The second and fourth line of each quatrain repeats as the first and third line of the next quatrain.” Of course there’s more to his explanation.

Finally Daly states, “American practitioners of this form have included John Ashbery, Donald Justice, and Marilyn Hacker.  In his book Pantoums Daly is very much a match for any of those written by those celebrated poets.

In his first pantoum Daly lays out the form’s history:


For all men do there is an end,
They row and row to make pantoums.
Muscles ache, minds transcend
In happy moments one presumes.

They row and row to make pantoums,
Harmonies keep on coming,
In happy moments one presumes
All’s right that coaxes humming.

Harmonies keep on coming,
Insects skim the river.
All’s right that coaxes humming
Through mortality’s quaint shiver

Insects skim the river.
Muscles ache, minds transcend
Through mortality’s quaint shiver.
For all men do there is an end.

Now let’s look at his last pantoum in this most interesting volume. It is rooted in his many travels and reveals life in a different civilization:


One trusts most those things unseen,
Unconquered battlement just out of reach,
Solidity projects a smokescreen,
A figure of fundamental speech.

Unconquered battlement just out of reach,
Where traitors conspire their plots,
A figure of fundamental speech,
Impaled by the writer-robots.

Where traitors conspire their plots,
Solidity projects a smokescreen.
Impaled by the writer-robots,
One trusts most those things unseen.

So these are the first and last poems in Daly’s book, and there are so many more good ones in between. Footnotes answer questions about some of the words, locations and historical context in the book.

Overall this is scintillating poetry by a fascinating poet who has seen and experienced much more than the average person.  The many poetic forms he uses in different collections he published conveys his breadth of knowledge.   This is a book well worth owning and reading

Author, The Lynching of Leo Frank, Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review

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