Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Lost & Found - David Lanier (The Texas Review Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Lost & Found.  David Lanier.  The Texas Review Press.  Huntsville, Texas. 2013.
Winner of the 2012 Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize


David Lanier's slim collection Lost & Found punches way above its weight.  By the time you are finished you'll think you've had a much bigger meal.

The first thing Today's book of poetry noticed about Lanier's writing is the easy and warm charm that resides underneath all of these pages.  Lanier seems to go about his business without any bells or whistles at all, he keeps his pencils sharp and gets the details right.  The result is that these poems feel like important conversations you've had with someone you trust.

The Upright

The older it got, the more it refused
to stay in tune for long. One note,
not-quite-right, a second that--insistently,
defiantly--plinked a little flat. Another
that might, in the middle of a scale,
suddenly squeak an octave or two
higher than it should.

He tried to keep the changes to himself,
blushed at every surprising warble
in his usually faultless playing,
chocked back the giggle in one chord
of "Lead on, O King Eternal."

But one day, when he thought no one
was listening, he began to draw them
out--all the wild, crooked sounds--
fitting his fingers around each one,
hammering them repeatedly. Then he
waited, dreading repercussions, and 
when none came, smiled and started again.

Alone in the hot pour
of an August afternoon, he grew even bolder,
began to fashion his own cacophonies,
accessorized Bach with noise
that surely would make the master frown.
Hidden here, within reach, were half-wrong
arpeggios he hurled like expletives
off mirror and mantel in the parlor.
He leaned his teenage body in,
hands learning to unzip
black keys, to dig into ivory
underthings. And then he stopped:
his mother at the door, the lock
sharply unlocked, the stiff
wooden stool beneath him
twisting a painful quarter-turn.

In the hallway she looked up,
called out, "Play me
something pretty." And before him,
wide grin of the keyboard, his
fingers poised on its lip.

...

Lanier is a small town boy and you can hear that in these poems.  But with relatively few steps, there are only eighteen poems in Lost & Found, the mature and articulate man appears amidst the strata of a considered life.

While We Wait For The Demerol To Work

The slow prayer of a sculling boat
is drifting forward on its own,
against the Potomac's urging,
oars uplifted. From your window
I watch it tug open
can almost count the knots
along the arms of rowers
who hold back just
a moment longer. How they must
ache to start again
the linked dip and pull, soft stroke
across the water's smooth brow.

...

Today's book of poetry had our regular morning read today, you know the rules, everyone who attends has to read.  But we had another unexpected guest this morning.  Just as we were starting, our old friend, the ghost of John Steinbeck, waltzed tall into the room as though he owned it.  John announced that he loved a good narrative poem and had heard we had some going around, then he reminded us that "unless a reviewer has the courage to give you unqualified praise, I say ignore the bastard."  That could be our motto.

Steinbeck took a seat in the corner, lit up a smoke like nobodies business and we just let him.  It reminded us of our childhood and he is John friggin Steinbeck's ghost.

At the end of a very inspired reading Steinbeck rose, thanked us for the excellent poems and company and then vanished just like he'd arrived.  It was clear he liked the clean, crisp and knowing poems of Lanier.

Milo, our head tech, and Kathryn, our new intern, both headed to the shelves to pull down some of
Steinbeck.  I started them off easy and pointed to Cannery Row and Of Mice and Men.  By tomorrow they will both be onto East of Eden.

Bright Leaf

Entering, my grandfather bowed
his head, the barn's opening
so low I could hook my fingers
on top of the doorjamb and lean
just my face into a sweet blast
of nightshade, the air even hotter
and drier than the dog day afternoon.

The beam of the flashlight
bounced off the flue's
blue-white jets, then jerked
upwards in short, bright arcs
as he moved toward the inner
ladder, began the slow, careful climb.

High above him, thermometers
suspended strategically from rafter
and beam told how far
to raise or lower the flame, how long
it took to turn green into gold.

I watched until his boots rose
unto the vaulted ceiling, lifted
past rack after crisscrossed rack
of leaves that quivered in his wake
like giant saffron moths
nesting side by side
on thin wooden poles, wings
folding behind them in their sleep.

...

Today's book of poetry found that David Lanier's Lost & Found had moments of ample grace and that is a big ask from any book of poetry, and a big reward.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
DAVID LANIER, who currently resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, lived for many years in Washington, D.C., where he was on the faculty of the Georgetown University School of Medicine. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Poet Lore, Southern Poetry Review, Marlboro Review, Louisville Review, and several other small magazines.

BLURB
“The seemingly simple and direct diction of these exquisitely crafted poems belies the wisdom, insight, and epiphanies looming beneath their crystalline surfaces.”
     — Larry D. Thomas, Final Judge

http://texasreviewpress.org/

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