Saturday, July 26, 2014

After the Hunt Poems by Devin McGuire

Poet Devin McGuire

After the Hunt
Poems by Devin McGuire
Encircle Publications
Farmington, ME
31 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Horsing around in a hostile world, waiting out the parts that suck, Devin McGuire writes his poems with nerve and punch. Describing McGuire’s first poetry collection as down-to-earth would be an understatement: his apartment smells and his women sweat. The poet’s persona drinks Pabst beer, not because it won a blue ribbon at the Chicago Exposition in 1893 (it probably didn’t, although for years each bottle had a blue ribbon tied around its neck), but because his hard-working grandfather drank it. Seems about right to me.

In the opening poem, Clean Plates, McGuire learns a useful lesson about unpleasantness—you can usually wait it out. As his long-suffering mother tries to force feed him liver, McGuire clings to TV theme songs as a way of determining the winning time frame of his protest. The downside is that he will go hungry. Still, he’ll win. The poet describes his predicament this way,

…liver always tasted like shit, but
my parents made me eat it all anyway.

It was like eating soggy chalk drenched
in catsup, my head propped in hand
as the minutes rolled by
into quarter hours
onto half hours

dad now retired to recliner
mom rinsing dishes
sisters upstairs playing,
a calf’s cold organ on my fork

Intent upon going through life the hard way the poet, in his piece titled At twenty years old, relates how as a young man he eloped with his girlfriend to a backwoods trailer park, complete with a JP and welcoming pink flamingos. Would you guess marriage bliss? No? You’re right! The poem concludes this way,

But at twenty years old
you don’t know yourself.
At twenty years old
we were two horny
dumb kids
with no clue
of what we wanted.
We thought we’d figure that out

It never really went down that way.

One of the more surprising poems in this chapbook McGuire calls After Dad’s Heart Attack. Somehow the passing on frozen packs of meat from father to son becomes an act of love. There also seems to be a conversation, albeit a wordless conversation, on the nature of mortality going on between the two generations. Here is the heart of the poem,

I drive home with fifty thousand grams of cholesterol
and a new book titled The Bad For You Cookbook.

At home I toss the animal flesh and lard into my freezer
but set the ribs aside.
As instructed I slow cook them
in clay covered Pampered Chef dish.

Hours later my apartment smells like small town Texas.

I eat this dinner like most
alone over the kitchen sink
but smile because it could be worse.
I count my blessings
happy that others love me

Insomnia closes in on the poet in his piece Awake (5 A.M.). He jousts with his alter ego over the solitary life and his past relationships. Notice that his female phantasm is a composite, not a singular memory. The poet says,

I think of the women that have lain with me there.
How when sleep wouldn’t mute
my dervish of thought,
I had the sweet nape of a neck
to nuzzle
to drown softly
in her smell.

How all I have to wrap my yearning
arms around now are these thoughts.

Sometimes I smile,
my thoughts small, comfortable,
safe and warm
alone, without the chaos
of another’s
floating in the air above my bed

Wasting Time in Western Maine, a poem which rails against the powerlessness of man to shape his destiny and create future solidity, disregards the reality of measured time. McGuire’s persona, nevertheless, leans his shoulder into the misfortunes of life, hoping against hope that all is not wasted. The poet opens the piece by denouncing objectivity as illusion,

wasting it
as if it had some tangible reality
not measured
not warped
or twisted
by perception

so if time’s not being wasted,
perhaps I am

Living life can be a messy affair with its missteps, its trauma, and its shuddering end. McGuire conveys this complexity through the eyes of an eight-year-old boy in his very fine poem entitled How To Kill a Fish. In the first stanza the poet skillfully details the panic and hesitancy of the youth by the halting exterior details of the building horror. Something very different happens in the second stanza, something in some ways more unsettling.  Replacing the boy, a knowledgeable observer describes an alternative killing method in almost scientific terms. A calmness and curiosity replace the aforementioned panic. Innocence lost for sure! McGuire ends his poem brutally,

the rest of your hand
round its head with your
other around its
speckled brown body
pull back till you hear
the snap and maybe
a cold dead fish eye
pops out a bit but
that’s not the worst of it
you will feel the death rattle
that last violent shudder
a shock like electric
life force leaving
your hands.

If you prefer your beer bold and unpretentious and your lovers smoldering like burning autumn leaves, read this book in one sitting and mull on life’s bloody wreckage and offbeat grandeur.

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