[Issue #11, Spring2004]
Something Near the Dance Floor
By Bruce Dethlefsen
Marsh River Editions, 2003
Reviewed by Karla Huston
There's a beat here; there's a rhythm. Like a drum circle that rumbles of
its own momentum, the poems in Something Near the Dance Floor tremble
and ta-tum. They thump of old loves and bumble of failed relationships,
yet there is always hope for something hopeful, something surprising. Some
poems are gentle; some are generous in their lavish use of language. Some
are written for sound's sake. Some delight, and some definitely disturb.
In "Monte Carlo," the narrator celebrates his son's coming of
age, the kid's first car, the time when that kid can drive away, and there
is nothing a father can do but go along, while hanging onto the door handle,
foot jammed into an imaginary brake.
at fourteen and a half
he thinks the future's wholly
one full tank of gas
the cream and green boy
revved up gassed up
hitting on all eight cylinders
his eyes on the high beam
braces chrome and sparkle
into the sun we slowly coast
In "Evening Wear," the narrator bemoans the fact that the only
way he can be near his son is to wear his watch, the father's need for him,
"bound skin to skin / manacled if need be." The bewilderment the
narrator feels is evident in poems that speak of other failed relationships.
The narrator isn't a bad man -- this father, this former husband and lover
-- just a man who doesn't do relationships well. In the poem "Tree
Story," the narrator compares a failed marriage to a storm-felled tree,
how the neighbors helped him clean it up, how, he tells the reader, "you
never have to do this by yourself ." In the poem, "The House We
Haunt is Ours," the narrator shows the ghosts of another failed relationship
where two people can live together but cannot connect, even in the "little
hours" of the night.
While Dethlefsen's narrators bemoan their failures, they celebrate, as well.
There are love poems aplenty, and the moon, who seems to watch, like some
lunatic chalk drawing, in the distance. In "Fingernail Moon,"
the narrator suggests meeting his far away lover as the full moon comes
up -- in two different parts of the world. "So how'd it go for you,"
he later asks, as if he already knows. "I hope you saw the moon hang
in the sky / somehow tonight / if only but a fingernail." In "Lovers
Notes" the narrator suggests that if she doesn't like his love note,
she should fall for a better poet.
Some of Dethlefsen's poems disturb, and isn't this the point? Most of us,
for example, don't want to think about urns of ashes on our shelves, yet
Dethlefsen in the poem "The Rest of You" offers other suggestions,
including using the deceased's remains as talc, as fertilizer for the garden,
or as condiment for his morning cereal . In "Ragewalking" he dares
the unthinkable. So many poems in this chapbook dare something, and we're
all tempted -- like looking up through a lit Christmas tree to see the star
on the top -- but don't.
Dethlefsen's humor rolls under the surface of these poems to temper even
the most outrageous urges, yet perhaps the most well-used instrument in
his poet-toolbox is language. There is a rhythm inherent in these pieces,
a careful crafting of words, attention to sound and the beat. Some poems
seem to exist solely to exploit words that play well together. "Shebang"
is a fine example:
these breeze oh ain't they sweet
these air to breathe
these sun wet world
these whole big blue green deal
and then these night
these children moon
these stars on strings
these twang of things
The poem "To Bees or Not" explains it. "A poet plays with
words / the way a sculptor plays with clay" and "the drummer slaps
his knees," because -- "the artist's hardest work / is mostly
play." All of this comes together -- the rhythm, the beat, the self-effacing,
and humor -- in the best poem in the book, "The Bone." "Men
are dogs," he begins. "They sing the same songs dogs do / and
understand about as many words / they say some are trainable."
you can pet them and rub them behind the ears
all you want
men are dogs
don't go near the bone
don't joke about the bone
leave the bone alone
What I like about this, and so many of the poems in this collection, is
that it is so perfectly true.
Something Near the Dance Floor is available from Marsh River Editions,
M233 Marsh Road, Marshfield, Wisconsin 54449.
Karla Huston has published poetry, fiction, and non-fiction in several state
and national publications, including The Wisconsin Academy Review, The
Wisconsin Review, Cimarron Review, Nightsun, The Comstock Review, Rattle,
and others. She serves on the board of directors for the Fox Valley Writing
Project and the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets.
CBR Home | Reviews | Excerpts
& Features | Guidelines | CBR