I chose this book not because of its title (yawn!), but because the back promised poems about Cleveland. It was only when I was about halfway through it that I discovered that I have a nodding acquaintance with the author, Dave Lucas, the understated, original, and often very funny host (if not more) of the great Brews & Prose series at Market Garden Brewery (http://www.brewsandprose.com).
Though often eloquent and witty as a host, Lucas’s words are pared down here and all the more powerful because of it. “River on Fire” takes what’s often considered to be a local joke (http://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/63#.VO6VulpZ9Hg) and turns it into a statement of mythical and industrial resilience. “Go down and tell them what you have seen: /,” Lucas concludes, “that the river burned and was not consumed.” “Midwestern Cities” is Whitmanesque in its celebration of places like Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit. “Letter to a Friend” is heart-stoppingly perfect and belongs in the class of poems like Heaney’s “Digging” and Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays.” “Aubade” (a word I don’t want to look up for fear of ruining the moment) is an amazing small moment poem. Lucas’ precision is remarkable here. “The New Poetry” is a stunner and probably should have been the final poem of the collection. It would have been quite an exit.
Lucas’ masterful and minimalist language leads to some amazing lines. “Autumn and its thousand adjectives have come” (“All Souls Night”), “The day’s stories staling in the mouth” (“After Love”) [‘Stories staling’ – perfect!], and “[E]cstatic instinct” (“Red-Tailed Hawk”) are three of my favorite examples.
What’s next, Mr. Lucas?