By David Lee
Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 1999
ISBN # 1-55659-132-2
142 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
May 2011

I have long been a fan of David Lee’s poetry. Several years ago David came to Webster University where I was teaching philosophy and he did a poetry reading mainly from his book The Porcine Canticles. I was simply hooked on his poetry in the dialect of the western farm world, and immediately purchased that book which I have nearly worn out. A few years later he came back for a second reading, and again I was gripped by his work. Now I have most if not all of his books, but this is the first time I’ve read one to review since I added a space for poetry on my book review page.

David specializes in taking the language of west country folks and in story poems about their lives he reveals the poetry of their language and the nature of their culture. Lee’s task is difficult since to the city educated reader the language, while often quite colorful, at first appears almost comical. But since he often deals with very serious themes of everyday affairs in the lives of people who have lots of difficult situations to deal with, he convinces the reader of the importance of the people, and soon, even the beauty of expression seems to just automatically come to at least this reader.

New From Down To The Café reads like a set of short stories of the people and their daily struggles. Most of the poems concern patrons of B.L. Wayburne’s restaurant called Wayburne Pig.

The people in the tiny town seem to take life as it is lived in their village as normal and everyday. However, there is another close-by town, Tahoka, which is seen as a quite suspicious village of people who are often morally suspect. One rather hilarious poem concerns the attempt to start a slow-pitch softball league, but in hearing about a woman from Tahoka who used to be a star fast-pitch player, the men realize this is to be a co-ed league and most at the café want nothing to do with that!

Poem by poem, almost like portrait by portrait in a gallery, we learn about the various folks who hang out at the café and all the simply crazy things they do. Lee can make these people so vivid and real, that despite the fact that the poet himself teases about the exaggerations, lies and multiple versions of the same story, the tallest tales can seem so real.

Even when he tells us about the funeral of one village recluse and a group of utterly incompetent vets who try to give him a 7 gun salute, he can make us both laugh and yet feel the sadness of the situation at the same time.

I especially enjoyed the exaggerations that Lee has his characters use, and in one poem he sort of traces the growth of the exaggerations over the years in the local recounting of the story. It is just such a human phenomenon.

Throughout the volume there are tragic stories and there are humorous stories, but never are the tragic stories too somber. Rather he sees the humanness in them more than he see the tragedy. In that vein Lee has said of his own poetry: “For me, poetry is the most serious thing in the world - it's my own form of religion - but I just don't believe in a God who frowns.” And that was my experience in reading him. I can be touched by the hard lives he recounts, but my brow was never quite furrowed in worry.

David Lee’s poetry is a joy and delight to read.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett