Dave Newman’s The Slaughterhouse Poems (White Gorilla Press, 2013) is as vivid a portrait of the impact of the Reaganomics on the American working class between 1986 and 1989 as I have read, carrying within it a cinematic focus on the life and times of a wayward teenage narrator. It reads like a deranged cross between Charles Bukowski and William Wordsworth, yet draws its strength from both traditions.
Newman employs both long narrative poems, with precise and poignant detail, dramatic tension, and short pithy poems that reverse the narrative. He gives the reader a wide emotional access to the condition and relations of an impoverished and pressured community through direct speech, strong imagery, wide-eyed characterization and succinct dialogue. Each poem, never without wit and attitude, works to deepen the view of a striving and beaten underclass within a social malaise and economic recession.
Bikers, strippers, wrestlers, bouncers, psychos, drug dealers, prisoners, bowling alley and bar owners, slaughterhouse workers move in and out of the poems and leave a sense of desperation and of a bloodied economy. Newman has a Dickensian streak, and draws potent poems from the characters of the slaughterhouse, where drunk men work with chainsaws, cut the throat’s of squealing pigs, eyeballs collect over grates in the killing floor, and Crazy Ed, the world’s greatest juggler of cow balls, gets fired for fucking a 300-pound pig.
A Concise Lesson On The Delicacies Of Cuisine In Foreign Countries And Here At Home By Two Lifetime Slaughterhouse Employees
Because they threw pig eyes like ping pong balls
Because they pelted us with bull balls
because the testicles
were slimy and hard as rocks
Because I ran
and slid on a puddle of blood
Because a man older than my father
stuffed a testicle down the back of my shirt
Because there are lessons to be learned:
bull balls, they said, were a delicacy
in many foreign countries
and chefs for kings
called them Mountain Oysters
and the butcher wearing a funny hat
smoking a Marlboro Red
said “Foreign countries like Kentucky”
then asked me if I’d ever eaten any ass
The narrative blows and glistens entering into the signs and representations of the two America’s, and offers implied readings of the position of the lowest underclass, the single mother, as well as a contrast with the state of manhood and masculinity. People are used and abused by an economy based around neon sweatshirts, meat and killings. It is an honest and grim account of a vicious and fraudulent period.
The short poem, ‘The Worst Weed I Ever Bought’, echoes Ed Dorn in Recollections of Gran Apacheria, in its use of indirect implication and humour to convey a wider duplicitous situation. Seemingly self-deprecating, note how each line develops and turns the narrative into something else.
didn’t get me stoned
and tasted delicious
in a nice tomato sauce
over angel hair pasta
Newman is an accomplished novelist and his narrative skills are given full rein in this powerful sequence of poems.
David Caddy 20th March 2014