Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Review of “What Blues?” by Adam O. Davis

As I mentioned in my past blog post, issue three of Grist just came out—and with that issue release, I am saying goodbye to a great three years with the journal. Joshua Robbins will be taking over as editor, and I know that this new journal will continue to flourish under his guidance. To celebrate the new issue, I wanted to highlight one of the poems in it.

What Blues?
By: Adam O. Davis

Horseflies hunt in the hockshop, heel
like hinges and rest like rust when dead.

They sting despite antidote, despite
aspirin, and give themselves so gladly

to every inevitable end. At this hour dust
is called for. Call it quick. The horseflies

have stung their last. In back, the blind
man’s saxophone is a sorry mess of brass

surrounded by a horoscope of household
appliances. Accordions resigned to the conspiracy

of cobwebs. Wedding rings and handguns,
comic books and collectible plates.

Dead horseflies, lucky horseshoes, defanged
hand grenades. How lost are the least of us?

In time, a bottle brings the blizzard. Ask after
an infirmary for the frostbitten. Ask another

three bars of brass, barely played in a place
where every mouth is a purse of smoke.

Someone asks for a kiss. The night
is a cash register that doesn’t know when to quit.

One of the many aspects I love about this poem is the deft use of accentual alliteration. English is an accentually structured language, so poems that make use of this sonic feature call out to us. I know many folks believe that English is “naturally” iambic, but iambic itself is from Latin and based on qualitative measures—which sonically is not a feature of English. This idea of iambic pentameter as being the most natural to English (I often hear the comparison to a heart beat) is a compromise of French syllabics and Old English accentual poetry. Our dear Chaucer is the one who popularized accentual-syllabic poetry.

The following is an excerpt I did with Adam about his work. This question in particular addresses the accentual form of this poem. You can find the full interview of Grist's Web site:

Charlotte Pence: One element to your work that caught my attention was the rhythm. Your poems use strong, stressed beats that add momentum to the poem. And the lines aren’t simply rhythmic but coupled with vivid images. “What Blues?” is a great example of this. The opening lines are: “Horseflies hunt in the hockshop, heel / like hinges and rest like rust when dead.” As I reread the poem, I realized it was in accentual alliterative form, which made me wonder; how often do you use received form? What is your poetry’s relationship with received form and open form?

Adam Davis: I’d say it’s a mixture of both. There are a series of separate narratives running through my manuscript belonging to several different characters, but one thing they share is an adherence to sound. I love the heightened musicality that poetry can offer, particularly when it’s unexpected. Most, if not all, of my work is in free verse, but there are moments of unexpected rhyme and a predominantly musical drive to the poems. I know the lines are working when I can recall them as soon as they’ve been written.

1 comment:

  1. You've done such an amazing job with Grist this year. This issue is fantastic.