By David Clewell
Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2003
ISBN # 0-299-18574-5 (pkb)
112 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
February 2012

I have been reading David Clewell’s poetry for many years, and have also had numerous delightful occasions of attending public poetry readings which David has done at Webster University and other venues in St. Louis. Yet this is only the second of his volumes which I’ve added to my book comment page. I’m hoping to continue slowly through my large collection of David’s volumes in the future.

This is a simply marvelous collection. However, I can’t help feeling it is slightly misnamed. David calls it THE LOW END OF HIGHER THINGS (a line in one of the poems). But most of the “things,” the topics, the situations, aren’t really that “high.” And the treatment itself is certainly not “low.” I have, in the privacy of my reading, rethought the name of the volume to: THE HIGH END OF LOWER THINGS. The “higher” refers to the poetry. It is simply awesome. Funny, insightful, clever, surprising and always thought provoking and rewarding. The poetry itself is the higher; the topics addressed are relatively everyday, and thus a bit “lower.” Oh yes, there are some widely known topics – the writings of Nostradamus, the CIA, Jack Ruby and more. But even with those known people it is the writing which soars and soars on about relatively mundane things within the subjects themselves.

“Wrong Number After Midnight” is a case in point. It concerns a caller with a theory that heavy duty aluminum may keep “them” out.

Then there is the utter craziness of the early beliefs within the intelligence community that LSD and other such drugs would change the world on spying.

I enjoyed the poem about the heart as a part of the body, not the symbol of love or anything else; just what it is in fact.

It’s hard not to laugh at the couple nervously watching the mail for their order of “love tools” which they are no longer so sure were a good idea.

Some of the best and most touching poetry I’ve read in quite some time are what I would call the “Benjamin” poems, from before he was even born, a “baby” poem and then a more grown Benjamin as a serious junk collector at four, out on a buying expedition with his father. Just marvelous.

In the clever and funny poem “Nostradamus Had To Know” I was giggling out loud reading his critique of Nostradamus’ unwillingness to be more specific.

Nostradamus finally could have named
some occasional names. Instead, that task has fallen to each
successive generations – filling in the yawning blanks, making the nondescript
shoe actually fit any one of history’s conveniently recent footprints,
sized up wisely after the fact until it makes nothing but sense.

There is a delightful poem in the voice of Buzz Aldain on the grammar of first words on the moon.

And we read in the poem about a magician:

“Magic is the art
Of suggesting how much it’s possible to get away with. Practice hard enough
And every passing minute will add to the irresistible life –
or – death ambiance of lot of people can’t stop themselves from buying into
Our job is making it look easy either way whichever now-they-see it,
Now they don’t effect we’re decided to build a reputation on.”

At the end are some poems about his father, and they are nearly as touching as the ones about his son. They certainly are marvelous poetry. I had a great laugh at one of his habits, but was certainly mine when I was a kid – listening to Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy.

“He tuned in for the weekly antics, the cockeyed joy he never questioned:
A ventriloquist on radio.”

Phenomenal poem, funny, insightful and very touching.

The volume never disappoints. David creates poetry that is challenging, original, creative, funny, touching and always insightful. I’m looking forward to the next volume of his poetry I choose from my shelf.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett