Bluebonnets, Firewheels, and Brown-Eyed Susans, or, Poems New and Used From the Bandera Rag and Bone Shop
by David Lee
Paperback, 232 pages
Few poets of Western America fill the "organic intellectual" role better than David Lee. His poetry is the real deal when it comes to recording hilariously insightful (and linguistically accurate) observations of rural culture — and America at large — while using a host of astute literary allusions and techniques. Imagine Robert Frost simultaneously channeling Will Rogers and Ezra Pound. Imagine Chaucer with a twang.
Bluebonnets, Firewheels, and Brown-Eyed Susans is focused on the women of mid-20th century rural Texas: frontier survivors and the daughters of frontier survivors, indomitable women with tastes that run from Baptist preaching to bourbon-and-branchwater. No element of hypocrisy escapes the poet's lethal attention.
Utah's first and longest serving Poet Laureate, Lee has received both the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Award in Poetry and the Western States Book Award in Poetry.
- If we were a civilized nation, we would declare David Lee a national treasure.
— Sam Hamill, author of Habitation: Collected Poems
- This one's a lucky pick: Rural Texas back when — memory filtered through the eloquent country vernacular and irreverent, bawdy imagination of David Lee, who can stretch the truth until delight shines straight through, unspool a nonstop sentence like a bad cat with a ball of yarn, see through the eyes of a woman just the same as a man, and hilariously take down hypocrisy and pretention, especially "preaching, zeal maintenance and overlording." (Full disclosure: love the guy, but then, read on and I bet you will too.)
— Eleanor Wilner, MacArthur Fellow, author of The Girl with Bees in Her Hair and Tourist in Hell
A Western SageDurango TelegraphApril 6, 2017
Special to the [Dallas Morning News]
Reviewed by DAVID FEELA
Bluebonnets, Firewheels, and Brown-Eyed Susans (or) Poems New and Used From the Bandera Rag and Bone Shop is the latest work from Utah Poet Laureate and Western wordsmith, David Lee.
Combine the sensibilities of a religious fundamentalist with a free-thinker and what you'll likely get is an oxymoron, but burnish that with a poet and you get Lee, a writer who has been publishing memorable volumes since his 1974 classic, The Porcine Legacy.
In his most recent release, Bluebonnets, Firewheels, and Brown-Eyed Susans (Wings Press, 2017), readers are handed a bouquet of freshly picked and perennial poems rooted in the soil of Lee's childhood, though simple nostalgia is not the tenor of these hard-hitting portrayals of rural Texas life. You will laugh out loud and then, perhaps, lower your eyes, having glimpsed not what is right but what is true about human nature.
Lee is both poet and storyteller. His new book reads like an anthology of the craziest incidents ever compiled, inspired tales of "women from small town West Texas, 1948-1962." It's a tribute to those strong women who shaped Lee's adolescent brain into a genuine and brilliant custodian of the word.
Much of the pleasure in reading Lee's poetry comes from his scrupulous attention to crafting each page for the ear and saturating his characters in broad washes of rural dialect, which he electrifies with humorous pronunciations and innuendo. Witness, for instance, the dilemma of a terrified deputy and his "cuddin" Leroy trying to decide how to get a 6-foot snake down from the top on "Mizrez" Birchwood's drapes:
Could be a giant coppermouf I dunno it's one damn big snaik... mebbe one them amaconda crawl up through the sewerpipe bite wormens on the butIt's impossible not to snicker at the two, the deputy with his pistol drawn shaking in his boots, ready to shoot the "snick" while Susan Butterfield calmly but clearly repeats, "Don't you shoot that gun in here" at least seven times throughout the 12-page poem, her edict the most lethal force in the room.
The hypocrisy embedded in social norms and religious conventions becomes a lightning rod for Lee, and he strikes with subtle but deadly force. The characters populating these pages are all from the same small town: the preachers, the police, farmers and housewives, children and grandparents. They're family, all of them. They embody what we've seen in the world too, as Lee magnifies their antics and illuminates (like a child with a hand lens) their souls.
Biblical allusions and illusions are the fulcrum upon which Lee's paradise is supported and his poetic license is regained. Whether it's a product of his upbringing; experience as a seminary student, semi-pro baseball pitcher or pig farmer; or lucky leftover from his pursuit of a Ph.D with a John Milton emphasis — who cares? The stories delivered from this pulpy mount continually surprise us with little literary miracles.
Threaded through the entire collection are shorter poems "from the sidebar minutes of the monthly Town Board Meetings" that resemble, very loosely, haiku. But in Lee's hands we might as well refer to them as "hicku" — glimpses of the collective unsophisticated rural wisdom, as in this sidebar titled, "Another Reason Why You Didn't Want Kristine Thornton to Talk During Town Board Meetings:"
I saw that girl of yours wearing short shorts downtown yesterday Deacon Hill she's so skinny I told my husband I couldn't tell if them were her legs or if she was riding a chickenHumor, satire and awkward social proclivities aside, the book also contains deeper pools, quiet places like verbal ponds that reflect perfect imagery, as in this description of a woman, slowly dying:
"...above where she lay in the body length embrace of death, wash hung stretched out and starched on the clothesline like a flock of angels nesting in rows under a fading daylight moon the cheatgrass whitewashed with hard rime"
Lee knows how to pick 'em — the words, I mean. Bluebonnets, Firewheels, and Brown-Eyes Susans is a paper posy waiting to be passed on to you.
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