Tuesday, April 25, 2017



Harpoon by Michael Cavendish
(Wordrunner Chapbooks, 2007)

            In the Vince Vaughn trash-comedy Dodgeball, there is a character known as Steve the Pirate. Most of the other characters are unsure what to make of a grown man who thinks himself a pirate, which leads to both moments of slapstick hilarity and harsh bullying. In the end, Steve the Pirate redeems himself, both by abandoning his pirate persona and using it to enjoy the ‘booty’ that the team comes across after they win the tournament.

            What upsets me (well, perhaps upset is too strong a word. Bemuses, perhaps?) about this volume is that Cavendish is too strong of a poet to have to resort to such character-based shenanigans. I’m prone to think that Cavendish himself realized this; after all, once he makes it past The Poppies, his opening salvo, it’s as if he turns off pirate-speak on the Facebook app and returns to normal prose. That’s not to say that the opening poem doesn’t have its moments (who among us isn’t capable of enjoying alliteration such as “Bulbous boned breakwind bred of/scorcher butter and stale strawberry wine…”), but not even clever double entendre (“…resplendent in breeches of/lime and saltpeter veinings”/”for her wintry strongbox-cum-underdirt chest/(afull and afilled and locked form the rest)”)  can save this poem from being a bit overworked, humor aside.

            Thankfully, this single set of prose does not define the volume as a whole. In Soar Upward, Starlings, Cavendish finds a way to be sentimental without falling into the trope of over passionate, with lines such as “Two make a flock/floating where you think to be next.” The poem A Little Poetry, Ladies? would normally be far from acceptable in this, the age of equality and respect, yet Cavendish manages to pull it off with a wink and a nod, hiding behind the poem’s title when he asks in the end “shall we have then, just a little – poetry?” This yearning for times past continues in Etudes, where Cavendish drops the most scathing like of the chapbook, declaring that “Political talk shows = polemic olympics.”

            Cavendish makes no bones about his topic when he turns to Poetic Autobiography. Giving us a year-by-year breakdown of his life through verse is fascinating, even if all the bravado of earlier poetry is discarded, even if one must find humor in lines about Jim Beam being an asshole. Although some of the word gymnastics of the first verse returns in At the Bay of Horses, one can’t help but to admire the portrait of a phrase such as “Faces in berry red/peeled in white shavings…” The volume ends with the poem that lends its name to the title, leaving us wondering if what we read before was only to get is to this moment, leading us from “…Ptolemy or Polo.”, depending on our view. Sometimes jovial, sometimes poignant,  Harpoon leaves us just as it found us, with, perhaps, just a little more insight into one of the seven billion crazy lives that make up our world.


From works for children to the macabre, from academic research to sports journalism, and from opinion essays to the erotic, M. Earl Smith is a writer that seeks to stretch the boundaries of genre and style. A native of Southeast Tennessee, M. Earl moved to Ohio at nineteen and, with success, reinvented himself as a writer after parting ways with his wife of eleven years. After graduating from Chatfield College (with highest honors) in 2015, M. Earl became the first student from Chatfield to matriculate at an Ivy League institution when he enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. The proud father of two wonderful children (Nicholas and Leah), M. Earl studies creative writing and history at UPenn. When he’s not studying, M. Earl splits time between Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Chattanooga, with road trips to New York City, Wichita, Kansas, and Northampton, Massachusetts in between.

No comments:

Post a Comment