Normally I don't review chapbooks; in fact, a part
of me refuses to accept chapbooks as anything but incomplete
sections, chapters that should be reserved for a full-length
book. And after a few full-length books have been published,
the poet's opus then need to be compiled into a collection
of his/her best work, but that is the work of time which requires
time. However, I decided to make an exception for Whatever
the Story Requires because the poems in this book are
strong and have a finished feel to them. Though let me be
fair, some of the poems were a little too safe, too distant
for me; but this is surely indicative of my preference and
not the fault of the writing. The better poems were clever,
exploratory, precise in their intent and said enough in fewer
lines than a whole repository of writing, which will often
put me to sleep.
I'd read many of these poems before in zines or online workshops
and yet, when I ran across them in this chapbook, I was pleasantly
surprised to find that they read even more coherent, fresher
as if I were reading them for the first time. I think there
is something to be said for the printed page in book form
no matter how many pages it comprises, whether that number
is 36 or 366, the tangible feel of a book in which the poet's
voice is concentrated gives the reader an opportunity to become
more familiar with the writer's voice, style, or intent. These
parts come into focus upon each successive read of a poem.
One of my favorite poems is "a small blue god":
Today he's playing a toy piano
atop the dump. It's Tuesday and he's safe
because the washer women are out
degreasing the clouds. Valderee, he sings,
valderah, his tiny voice nearly
buried beneath the scavenger's crees.
He might be the smallest of all gods, the least
likely to bring change. Yet every day
he sings to the sky because it looks
so much like him, big and full of hope.
What I absolutely adore about this poem is its simplicity,
its remarkable voice and the immediacy of telling; (note how
the first line begins with "Today"). By the second
line, I had everything I needed to slide into this poem--a
toy piano, Tuesday and a child alone. Now, for the symphony,
"Valderee" and "valderah," "the scavenger's
crees" are grand notes that aurally and maternally endeared
me to the poem. How wonderfully magical and innocently these
lines manage to capture the child's delight in being able
to shrill out his song to the world. The child's world/voice
is singularly one of the most difficult things for a writer
to capture well without tipping the cutesy, cloying scale.
This is why "small blue god" is remarkable. The
only metaphor I questioned was: "degreasing the clouds"
- I'm not for sure I understand this trope, and I think it's
a little overreaching, but the poem rights itself immediately
with this gorgeous observation: "He might be the smallest
of gods, the least/likely to bring change."
Another great poem, that I had read before is, "Fly."
There are enough fly and maggot poems published out there
to gross me out for life, but Steve does something else with
the fly by suiting it up in a tie, "a bit of spit in
hair" --an anthropomorphosis that makes this fly endearing,
not cartoonish or silly. I won't include the poem here, you'll
need to pick up a copy of Steve's chapbook and read it for
On the whole, Steve's voice, style, linebreaks are very sure
and while these alone don't paint the entire story, they are
enough to get a feel for the poet's work. What stood out foremost
for me was I could sense that the poet took some time to carefully
select the poems included in this book. There is nothing more
disparaging than to come across a chapbook that has been slapped
together for the sake of publishing; to read poems that are
in rough draft form that should have never been included in
the book to begin with, thereby canceling out the stellar
poems. This is not the case with Whatever the Story Requires.
As a chapbook, this is good as it's going to get. Which is
to say, you can't have the full story, it's not done yet,
it's just the beginning which will leave you wanting to read
more of this writer's work.
*"a small blue god" first appeared in American Poetry
Journal. Reprinted here with the permission of Steve Mueske,
Copyright © 2004 Steve Mueske. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2004 Tryst3.com.
All Rights Reserved.