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Dave Newman’s The Slaughterhouse Poems

Dave Newman’s The Slaughterhouse Poems

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.

 

smelled great

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

 

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Dave Newman’s Raymond Carver

Dave Newman’s Raymond Carver

Short story writer and poet, Dave Newman’s second novel, Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children (Writers Tribe Books), builds upon his oeuvre with an impressive range of humour from satire to self-deprecation through poetic word play. Like Carver, Newman’s writing exudes authenticity yet offers more than realism in its confrontation of deeper issues. The narrator, Dan Charles, struggles to find a balance between making a living to support his family and finding the energy to be creative. Deep inside working class America and the underbelly of higher education, here ‘The teachers wait tables. The bartenders teach school’ as ‘it is required that you must do to be.’

 

It’s almost weeks into the semester, and I can’t afford a bullet-

proof vest. I can’t afford anything. The students all think I’m in

charge of their lives, but I make less money than a shoe store

manager at the mall and with no job security.

 

He and his wife both have second jobs. The novel explores the concept of choice, through its use of detail, with a rigorous sense of humour that makes it lived and memorable. In the tradition of Bukowski, Carver, Philip Levine and Richard Ford, the novel questions literary and cultural assumptions with an engaging freshness about what matters most and shows that things for those with a work ethic are not as they should be. It is a novel marked by absence. Although based in Pittsburgh, the novel has a national and international relevance that elevates it beyond testimony.  Above all, it is very funny and that is recommendation enough.

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