a literary review
For those of you unfamiliar with David Lee’s poetry, you will have to adjust to the idea of narrative by way of colloquial vernacular. Lee’s ear for rural idiom and speech is impeccable, but not to be taken for granted. Some readers have found it necessary to find assistance in the reading by way of lexicons and those more familiar with the speech used, but if you are patient enough, this book will reveal itself to you and become more accessible as you keep reading.
Early on, David Lee establishes the irreverent nature of both these poems and his friendship with William Kloefkorn. It’s an irreverence only the likes close friendships see, and as readers we are privileged to have a glimpse of this relationship. From the onset, it is clear this book is a tribute to the poet’s dear friend, William “Bill” Kloefkorn. The poems here are sometimes written for Bill, sometimes written in Bill’s voice, and at others are written at the urging of Bill. Kloefkorn appears throughout the poem and the reader is given an opportunity to see an amazing friendship and adoration expressed in and literally through poetry.
Bill Kloefkorn, in one of his many guises, ‘Billy Klogphorne,’ shows up in the first poem, “Reveille, Adolph’s.” David Lee, as his alter ego, ‘Clovis Ledbitter’ is also present, the two of them letting it all hang out. Here we are witness to a conversation regarding the life of a small town where if everyone doesn’t know everything going on in the morning, they are certain to by mid-afternoon at the latest. Bill defines (as he is prone to do throughout the book) what “hoity toity” means:
Billy said Part A is meaningless
And as for Part B
according to the Oxford English Dictionary
hoity toity in the denotative sense
comes directly down to la de fucking dah
It says that in the dictionary?
Clovis said If Billy said it is
It’s exactly verbatim
Which to him means
That’s the gist of it
Billy said Ledbitter
you don’t know Jack Shit
That shows what you know
I might have known him once
Oh bull said Billy
you rattle on as much
as that old Dodge pickup of yours
you old high pocket
This passage sets the stage for the relationship David Lee perceives with his friend, William Kloefkorn. Lee both admires Kloefkorn for his knowledge and perspective, and loves his friend unconditionally, sharing an intimacy which allows for friendly wordplay and teasing as the two set forth navigating the pages of Last Call.
In another early poem, “The Monument of the South Plains” Lee establishes a literal touchstone to anchor the book to the earth. In the poem, one of Lee’s characters, Willy John has been given a school assignment for a physical art class. The result is a manmade sculpture of sorts reminiscent of outsider art, which becomes the fascination of the town and helps to explore another theme familiar to Lee’s writing: how news travels. Lee describes the sculpture:
Willy John built three, tore down the first two
finally settling on a tower amalgamated between an obelisk
and a Babel ziggurat, a spiral of plough shares
fenders and motor covers, tractor seats and steering wheels
a corn planter, spring tooth harrow and flat cultivator
manure spreader, deep trench, disc cultivator and windrower
all manner of painted and rusting equipment
conjoined invisible in the warp of woof, the new body
arose from a blood red brick base
and a gathering of barbed wire strung against
an open side like it emerged from the skeleton
of an overlooked and dying chthonic deity
of androgynous Texas god resurrected and ascending from the barnyard
The sculpture becomes a topic of conversation and irregular visitations by one of Lee’s regular faces, Kay Stokes. In Lee’s small community everyone knows everyone else’s business. To support this, Lee composes a series of poems which by way of adoration, miracles, and pseudo veneration, demonstrate how small town legends are born. This is best expressed in the poem, “The Traildust Gospel.” Here, Lee dissects how gossip and secondhand information spread like wildfire to create both myth and legend within a small town.
Within the book, the motif of traveling acts as counterpoint to the solid placement of the monolith poems. There is wandering, driving, and piddling along the back roads. For Lee, stories and myth alike are born on the road and one gets the sense this is a residual of both meditation and the amount of travel Lee has undertaken since his retirement. A sure-fire highpoint of these stories will certainly be “Driving Solo: Clovis rants a Monologue in Five Acts with Intermission.” Here, any reader familiar with the small and lonely back roads of Utah and Nevada will immediately recognize the roads in Lee’s poems as real places. However, the reader who is unfamiliar with these roads need not worry because Lee’s descriptions are created in such a way as to communicate the sensory truth just as well as the literal truth of those roads. Thematically, however, it serves to tie together those stories which come from real life and those which are inspired by pure imagination, delightfully blurring the division for the reader.
Additionally, David Lee allows the spirit of his dear friend, Bill Kloefkorn, to speak through him. Bill becomes the subject of several stories told in this volume, some of Lee’s creation, and others hauntingly similar to those Kloefkorn might have told on his own. Taking a penchant for titles, Lee commandeers a familiar voice of Kloefkorn’s, that of Ludi jr., and tells a fantastic story of Kloefkorn doing his best to corrupt a class full of Sunday school youths. The title of the poem, accordingly, is:
“Substitute Teacher or The morning Billy Klogphorne taught the adolescent male Sunday School class lesson on the designated Christian Leadership Preparation outline topic of Genesis 5:18, 18, and 23,24, proving Lamech and polygamy were of the lineage of Cain and therefore accursed of God and Why he was never invited back to teach
Sunday School again”
Last Call succeeds, but not because it represents any return or adherence to the narrative which many of David Lee’s fans love. That Lee has returned to the narrative form in his recent books is not a sign of anything except the call to which each poet must respond. This book succeeds because Lee is an attentive poet with a sharp ear for idiom and colloquial speech. Lee is a master story-teller and he always puts his sympathy with the poem and the people who inhabit them, and ultimately, he trusts the voice of his friend who guided his writing. Last Call is both elegy and celebration, but it is more than that. Last Call is in fact David Lee collaborating with his dear friend, William Kloefkorn, one last time. Lee is both poet and translator for his friend and we are the beneficiary of his diligence.
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Justin Evans was born and raised in Utah. After high school, he joined the U.S. Army, where he served in Texas, Germany, and in combat during Operation Desert Storm. After, he spent the remainder of his enlistment at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Upon being discharged, he returned to Utah, marrying his wife, Becky. He also continued his education at Utah Valley University, studying Humanities, and Southern Utah University, where he graduated with a degree in History and English Education. After serving as an adjunct writing instructor at UVU, he took a job teaching a variety of history and language arts classes in rural Nevada, where he still lives today with his wife and their sons. Justin’s poetry has been collected in four chapbooks (Four Way Stop, 2005; Gathering up the Scattered Leaves, 2006; Working in the Bird House, 2008; and Friday in the Republic of Me, 2012. He is the author of Town for the Trees (Foothills Publishing,2011) and Hobble Creek Almanac (Aldrich Press, 2013). His third full length collection, Sailing This Nameless Ship, is forthcoming from BlazeVOX. Justin edits the online literary journal, Hobble Creek Review.