Thursday, November 13, 2008

Read This: The Space Between Our Danger and Delight by Dan Vera

Dan Vera's debut collection, The Space Between Our Danger and Delight ($15, Beothuk Books), is just like the cover image -- full of sparks. And also like the sparkler, the 37 poems crackle and burn long after you close the covers on this slim volume. Vera embraces an economy of words, wasting none of his lines or fussing with complicated metaphors. This is a straightforward collection that reminded me of Ted Kooser, but also the whimsy often found in the work of our poetry grandfather, Walt Whitman.

Pop culture and Bush/Iraq-era politics are on display, but perhaps the strongest section is the set of poems about growing up gay and Latino in South Texas: Finding his emotions as a young barrio boy watching Disney's Old Yeller, his family's assimilation into American life, his brother's reaction to his coming out as a gay man. While those subjects might seem specific, these poems contain multitudes. 

There is a folksiness in the opening poems, full of romping dogs, cuddling up to a loving partner and playful curiosities about the "chemical" and "elemental principles" of delight and how we as humans measure it. Perhaps the collection's strongest piece -- although it's a tough call with all the delights on offer here -- is Emily Dickinson at the Poetry Slam, a fantasia about the poet leaving her Amherst attic, catching a train to Boston and laying down three minutes so perfect that it cures illnesses, causes power outages and turns hair white on those who witness it. That one poem is worth the price of admission alone, but I decided to choose another piece that spoke to me just as strongly. 

Father's Day for Gay Boys

One beside another – brothers
Seven diviners 
of what lies beyond the truths we have uncovered.
One make three, then four, then more
until we move beyond mere numbers.
There is thunder over the city tonight
and of the million hearts we may never see
here in the circle we make commitments 
we push the limits of earthly loving.

Electricity visits again
and the black skies pulse with light –
currents of power by some capillary action.

Sons kiss their fathers.
Sons kiss their fathers to sleep
and the rose-eyed boy remembers himself again.

We are not the sons they ordered
with their patriotic dreaming.
We are not the sons they expected to come down the line.

But we unfold
beyond such kind paternal ignorance.
We unfold within the measure of our time.
And we make peace with the fathers inside of us.
And we give birth to a hidden, long-carried joy within.

6 comments:

Lisa Allender said...

I like the "cadence" in this poem, it flows beautifully. So touching!
I'll put Dan Vera's book on my list of must-have's--the Emily Dickinson piece sounds really interesting!

Sandra said...

Yes! I love Dan's work. My town is lucky to have him around.

jaxx said...

that poem is brilliant. i'm going to take a copy of it with me tonight; i'm speaking on a GLBT panel for the school of visual arts, and i think the guys would love this.

Anonymous said...

That's a great poem!

GAV

Rosemary Nissen-Wade said...

Beautiful!

mgushuedc said...

Colin: Thanks for the stunning review. Dan's book also reminded me of Whitman. Not it style, but in its expansiveness, and in its own way being willing to speak to and for America as a community. Rare.

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