Saturday, April 23, 2011

Odes to Tools

I once had a dream to start a website called Men’s

I thought better of it. Hear it as if announced on NPR, as in “N-P-R-dot-O-R-G”. Yes, it’s “men’s tools dot orgy.”  See what I mean?  But my husband really does look good in a tool belt. 

(And I call him “my husband” above, because I don’t like to name my family members online.  I’m not claiming possession of him.  Though, um, yes, I am.  And I am fine being called “his wife,” though I did keep my own last name.)

In April, I’ve been cheering on Kristin Berkey-Abbott and Dave Bonta who are reading four poetry books in common for National Poetry Month.  In particular, Dave has been reading (just about) a poetry book or chapbook a day, including one of mine.

If you click the link to his review of Broken Sonnets, you may be worried that Dave is insulting me. Maybe he is! But if you keep reading, and some people don’t, after the first two sentences, he says some really nice things.  So fear not!

But he did read and review the book while drinking, and, in fact, he says, got drunk.  So, tit for tat, last night I drank two glasses of wine in order to finish reading Odes to Tools, by Dave Bonta, and report on it!  Seemed best to do this at night so I could check to see that I didn’t say anything rude or inappropriate (other than “tit for tat”) before posting this morning.

Also, this is in keeping with Slattern Day in the blog.

So!  Odes to Tools is great fun, and I learned a lot about tools.  Living with a carpenter-electrician-car-mechanic-reluctant-plumber with a tool-belt, who just fixed our overworked sump pump, I know a few things about tools, but not everything, and certainly not everything about what can be done with tools in poems.

First off, even the titles of the poems are delightful: “Ode to a Socket Wrench,” “Ode to a Claw Hammer,” “Ode to a Hatchet,” “Ode to a Hoe,” “Ode to a Coping Saw,” “Ode to a Shoehorn.”

Second off, you might worry that a book called Odes to Tools is full of stodgy old odes, just as Dave worried that my book might actually be full of stodgy unbroken sonnets.

But these odes to tools are not dictionary odes, as in:

“1. A lyric poem of some length, usually of a serious or meditative nature and having an elevated style and formal stanzaic structure.”

These are short poems, mostly a page each, informal and lively in diction, in praise of the particular tool, or, yes, quite lyrical and meditative, sometimes seeming to go off topic into a wonderful, wild musing, as in this opening stanza of “Ode to a Claw Hammer,” which is dear to my heart, given that Thor’s Day is a category of my own existence:

Back when all angels were male,
the hammer was the first
perfect androgyne.

That’s just gorgeous!  And here’s another stanza about the claw hammer:

This is no claw, but a pair of legs
strong enough between them
to give birth to nails.

That gets it exactly, both the look and power of the tool and the experience of childbirth.  And “Ode to a Musical Saw” reminds us that tools have other uses, including as musical instruments.  This poem ends breaking my heart:

There’s a sweet spot, the street
musicians say, & they find it
in you.  Where the heart might be,
systole & diastole in perfect balance,
if you were more than cartilage.

The pure tone floats up
through two octaves of rejoicing
at your deliverance
from lumber.
Or is that grief?

Again, gorgeous.  And rings so true.  (And remember there is also such a thing as a “clawhammer banjo”!)

Nor are these odes

“2a. A choric song of classical Greece, often accompanied by a dance and performed at a public festival or as part of a drama”

but they could be! Or

“2b. A classical Greek poem modeled on the choric ode and usually having a three-part structure consisting of a strophe, an antistrophe, and an epode”

but it was fun to revisit my theatre history in anticipation of Odes to Tools, which are more like free verse songs of praise, though there is a bit of Greek right away in “Ode to a Hand Truck,” by way of the opening line, “Eohippus of the truck family,” surely a great image, made even more fun by lines 2 and 3, “divergent offspring / of wheelbarrows,” so we see a kind of evolution before our very eyes!

Eo + hippus (Greek for horse) = extinct ancestor of the horse

So much depends upon divergent wheelbarrows! But Bonta provides his own allusion to the famous William Carlos Williams poem, the bane of so many high school students, the joy of so many poets, in his last stanza:

The job over,
I return the hand truck
to its spot under
the barn forebay,
between the Ford dump truck
& the old wheelbarrow,
no longer red, on which
so little
now depends.

(Who needs a wheelbarrow when you’ve got a hand truck?)

I highly recommend this man’s tools (and this man’s odes) and suggest you read about his inspiration for the book here.

I admire the precision of language and observation in this book, how the setting unfolds around the focus on the tool at hand, and how each poem, moving quickly and lightly, can also, if it wants, take on a large philosophical idea. 

I love how there’s a life here, a personal history, work, a childhood.

And I love how the poet can provide his own little river of anaphoric love in “Ode to a Shovel”:

I love groundbreaking...
I love cutting sod…
I love giving the earth…

And I can guess, from “Ode to a Chalk Line Reel,” that he would love the fact that my husband still uses a reel with string for an “electric blue” chalk line.  And, of course, we both love a spirit level.  (Yes, I sound a little sentimental about tools, but it turns out I am not drunk at all.)

You can get a copy of Odes to Tools via the publisher, Phoenicia Publishing, in Montreal, here, where you can also click to listen to Dave read the poems.  And be sure to visit his blog, Via Negativa, and his online magazine, qaartsiluni.


April 23 poem-a-day prompt: Shakespeare's birthday!


Kathleen said...

P.S. April 23 poem-a-day prompt: Shakespeare's birthday!

The Poet's Lizard said...

This is just wonderful, Kathleen! As soon as I come up for air I am going to order Odes to Tools; and a number of other things I want to read this summer. Dave's book has been on my list for a while now.

Dave said...

So glad you liked the odes and the tools. Kind reviews are always nice, of course, but what's most gratifying here is the realization that someone with a real love of poetry has engaged with my work in a deep way. Thank you.

Kathleen said...

And thank you for the book exchange, Dave! So glad the Lizard will be seeking out the tools.

Also, I think some people who love tools but don't usually read poetry would love this know, for Father's Day!!

Hannah Stephenson said...

You go, Kathleen. And also Dave. What an articulate review. :)

Nancy Devine said...

tools figure quite importantly in our lives. my husband gave me the gift of a blue-handled channel lock quite early in our marriage, a tool he swore i'd love. he uses it mostly.

Kathleen said...

I had my own tools before we married, Nancy. Husband appropriated them...

ren powell said...

Thanks for this lovely review, Kathleen! Very much enjoyed reading it - as I did the book itself.

Kathleen said...

You are welcome, and I have been reading about your wonderful book, too, in the Bonta/Berkey-Abbott reading project!

Maureen said...

What a great post! Absolutely loved the review, Kathleen. I know several men for whom Bonta's book will make a perfect gift.

ted tingley said...

I thought I would never see a poem as lovely as a tool. Thanks Dave.

I thought I looked good in a tool belt but my wife made me go put on some clothes.

Laura said...

Dave's book is one of the richest volumes of poetry I've bought in a very long time. I find more in it every time I revisit it. (Gosh, what a stereotypical tumble of reviewer-ease! But I mean it.) He needs to publish many more books.

Mark Kerstetter said...

love his reference to Wiiliams' wheelbarrow. Great, spirited review - and very sharp.

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Laura, Mark, and Ted. Ted, you made me laugh. And I'm tellin'.....