Loads of Learned Lumber

Sunday, March 22, 2015

David Lee, _Last Call_

We have not had a poetry week at LLL for a while, so here we go.

Last Call, Lee's most recent book, is in large part a memorial tribute to his friend, the great Nebraska poet William Kloefkorn, who died in 2011.

One wing of the memorial is a series that opens with the poem "The Monument to the South Plains," a conversation between a father and a son about the son's sculpture project, a towering assemblage of found objects--the found objects being all images (as an endnote explains) drawn from Lee's and Kloefkorn's poems. The poem generates a series of poems that turn into a parable of art: the sculpture attracts skepticism and mockery, then respect and reverence; it nearly becomes a commodity once it catches the eye of the rich man in town (Kay Stokes, whom the reader may recall from Lee's My Town); it draws into itself a host of meanings, and finally seems to exist purely for its own sake: "it's probley one of the most beautiful things / I ever saw in my goddamn life."

The other wing is another series of poems, braided through the book with the sculpture series, this one relating a dawn-to-way-past-dusk odyssey featuring a character named Clovis and his friend Billy Klogphorne. This, too, is a monument to the South Plains, or the idiom of the South Plains, salty and terse.  Clovis and Billy are retired literature professors, given to the mock floridity of which Twain was a master, and Lee seems to enjoy toggling back and forth between their polysyllabic conjuring--the high point of which is Billy's disquisition on time and space--and the laconic grittiness of the people they stop to talk to in the taverns--the high point of which is a haunting account of a fiery accident on an oil rig.

Lee has the gift of hearing and capturing the poetry that surrounds us in the speech of our neighbors, as did Kloefkorn himself, and it's hard to imagine him not loving this book.

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