myth and poetry

MP Review
Dennis Patrick Slattery, Twisted Sky
Winchester Canyon Press
$14.95, 125 pages
ISBN 978097061490
cover and Back Cover of Book

Reviewer: Connie "Sage" Williams
Bio: Connie Williams

A printable page
November 30, 2007


In Twisted Sky, Dennis Slattery's latest volume of selected poems, the author demonstrates his expert command of poetic techniques and forms with what becomes for the reader, a "twisted" wile.  Mythological metaphor and psychological drama trauma aside, this poet is a courtier of the tools of his trade.  The slick cover features an atrophied twisted tree, roots tentacle the earth before a colorfully contrasting blue sky.  The metaphor set thus, he leads the seasoned connoisseur in poetry deeper into the "wasteland" of the soul's banshee. Through the veil of unlikely comparisons, one is lead into awe as well as inspiration.  Even when the poem is out of step with its own philosophical premise or connotative construction, its wry impact continues to lure the adventurer on, to a different perception of mundane objects, occurrences, and emotions. A twisted sky becomes the landscape of the author’s unlikely imagery.

Most interestingly Slattery effectively plays on familiar lines from the human collective of archetypal stories giving them a fresh and original approach, scarcely recognizable but firmly grounded, “and now comes so softly the / winter of her splintered content” (7), assurance that even contentment is never complete, reminding us of the classic “winter of our discontent.” He evokes Lilith in “St. Anthony of the Desert,” describing “darlings of the night in attempts / to seduce you towards succulence, (6)” luring the reader to a new and glaring understanding of common terminology “ladies of the night.”

“Bergasse 19,” borrows from classic Oedipus, as Slattery describes an aging doctor’s meditation, “He notices as if for the first time / The brooches – gold, with small / Animals as exquisite filigree in the / Folds of Jocasta’s darkened silk dress,” twisting the reader’s mind to inquire if the Dr. intends self destruction.

Latticed throughout Twisted Sky appear themes such as the great white whale of Ishmael from Moby Dick, a nomenclature to all, “does the white whale swim / flukeshly  to victory (3)"? In these lines the poet seemingly questions conquest as being a fluke, even a twisted accident.  He extends the whale imagery in other poems such as “Bob’s Study Question” as he relates to his student, commenting that “I would/could be like you, Bob, / full of the love of whale lore / dreaming of the hunt . . . “  He quickly changes course, becomes the caustic cynic commenting that yes, if he did display his weaponry for harpooning whales, if he “might charge the cockpits . . . impale a flight attendant” by implication asserting that he would thus expose himself, his purpose, his true motive as it were perhaps to the government, et al, then “by all means call me” he tells the student. 

A harsh reality is seen in “Terezin Stone,” here by imagery and implication in a seemingly unrelated tale of holocaust terrors as he again summons the aquatic imagery with  “showers of /  cruel water,  . . . a laundry room of vats large / enough to tumble bodies in like a  / large cement truck’s humped back(44).”

We gather "bones" in “Nicomedes, Bone-Gatherer,” the poet describes the cold mentality of tyranny “Brazen towards discarded bones,” and we visualize the blood letting of brothers for power.  Then he asks “who would suffer the / torture of lead” (1). Is the poet suggesting the bullet, or as he writes “to lead a life / of bone-bagger,” allusion to the collection of lives in battle?

Dennis Slattery cuts through the perverse insistence of post modern free verse forcing us into structure as he twists the path into form.  From the Elegy, of “Celtic Wonder,” he turns the most mundane remaining chore left by the one who has crossed over from ethereal realms to the mundane, “Toast crumbs across the tile counter still move / slightly in their warmth, still alive in / buttered bliss. The knife that stroked them sits still and obedient in the sink / ready for bathing.”  He then leaves us with the image of this man’s ready wit injecting him with further life, “citizen, Celt, cut-up, card*,” immortalized as the sea and then banishes him forever, “you leave a hole in the ocean where no water . . . spill(s) into” (9).

Even in the Haiku Slattery creates artistic conflict that continues to twist the reader’s pre-conceived imagery through his sheer genius of observational and analytical description. He cleverly salts the Haiku throughout the book, interspersing them effectively in brief and startling sequence. He describes emotional turmoil and regret in the syllabic form, “Wounding,”  “Harsh words attack him; / a friend grows angry with me. / I cannot unspeak.”  He adheres to the five seven five rule, but twists the form into Westernization that leads him away from nature into the human domain.

From chasing the images of the elusive white whale of man’s ever fleeing hearts desire, to the fragmented shards of depleted conquest, we discover that Slattery is as eager to quash “pedagogic whines” as to define the landscape of manicured syntax and formalized vocabulary as “sculpted turds” (53).  Voila!  And so it is, that it is, that Slattery observes the possibility that the critics interpretation threatens to “corrupt our (the poets) alienation.”  And thus “murder is outed” and the “twisted” mindset called out by Slattery’s twisted revelations.

In the end, we too are posing the questions this poet addresses in “Beyond the Waters Edge” when he asks “Must god hang on a tree and never sit beneath one”(37).  He has given us audibly the trees “that hiss in the wind,” and the waves that “approach (es) hissing” (20) as he shakes off the aforementioned “patriarchal cholera / (that) dissolves all pleasures / in poetic scholera” (53).  Quiet evidentially Slattery demands license to create the necessary word as he tells us the sun “warmed my words into wax to fit / my brittle thoughts” (69).  We are left here with the lingering taste of the common longing of the growing older as “desperate for a fresh head of / steam to startle my years back / under the belt” (115).  Satisfied, the satiated reader concurs that “no where else is / life as intense as the radiant resonance of dark words” (119) in the Twisted Sky of Dennis Slattery’s voice.

*In Memory of Dan C. Noel
For Dan's Selected Writings 1962-2002 please see In A WayWard Mood.
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Praise For Twisted Sky by Dennis Patrick Slattery

"The poetry of Twisted Sky is of place and of person. It is a poetry in pilgrimage opening into the groundless, wounded nature that is the no-ing, unplaceable space of the wound in the pilgrimage within each of us. The poetry of Twisted Sky by Dennis Patrick Slattery explores the nature of the wounded animal soul through a number of its guises." -Stephanie Pope

Dr. Slattery is available for lectures and workshops. For more regarding his curriculum vitae, experience and scholarship or to contact him click links.

Project Muse Electronic Journal Collection: Slattery, Dennis Patrick Seized by the Muse: Dostoevsky's Convulsive Poetics in The Idiot
Literature and Medicine - Volume 18, Number 1, Spring 1999, pp. 60-81

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Dennis Patrick Slattery

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