Review of Late
for Work, by David Tucker
Houghton Mifflin, $12.00, 53 pgs.
Tucker is the winner of the 2003 Slapering Hol Press
for Days When Nothing Happens
the two major forces of human life are love and work, then David Tucker has struck
gold with his first book, Late for Work, the 2004 Winner of the Bread Loaf
Writers’ Conference Bakeless Prize. This major first book is compelling not only
for Tucker’s ability to write highly literate and elegant poems such as “City
Editor Looking for News” about his workplace, the Star Ledger where he
is Managing Editor, but also for his lyrical musings about the off hours, the
out takes, the silent moments, the phenomenological ramblings that we notice,
but rarely document.
“And This Just In,” the poet’s concluding stanza features, “A watchman humming
in the parking lot/at Broad and Market—we have that—/with a sidebar on the bronze
glass/of a whiskey bottle cracking into cheap jewels under his boots. A boy walking
across the ball field/an hour after the game—we’re covering that silence.” Tucker,
the reporter, misses nothing, neither the sensory reality of glass under the watchman’s
boots, nor the loneliness of the boy left to contemplate the empty field after
the game is over. Tucker, the poet, compresses visual observations into powerful,
“Newsroom Still Life,” as expansive as Whitman, he captures the quiet and calm
that infiltrate the newsroom after deadline:
I love the who-cares, who-gives-a-damn
mood and the phone ringing
under a hill of newspapers on the desk of the investigative
gone for the weekend. Let it ring. Let silence take over for a while,
the silence of Vermeer’s pitcher, the silence of atomic water heavily dripping.
whose father, while driving a bulldozer, recites lines of Shakespeare learned
in high school and whose mother comes out of an asylum better than before entering
could have mastered Poetry 101 on opening class day. Two attributes that make
this collection unforgettable are the depth and dispassion of Tucker’s delineation
of his relationship to those he loves. Some of his most plaintive poems address
the loss of his mother to the asylum and their later reunion. Their expression
of yearning gives these poems their haunting quality.
“The Brief Life of the Box,” Tucker chronicles the life of the inanimate, then
celebrates its desecration and later renewal as elements of tomatoes. “It was
the summer for strange events like that/ The boy’s mother was in the asylum, hearing
words/Boxes became heroes; tomatoes made you pray/ It seemed she would never come
from the perspective of the child, “That Day,” gives the reader a flashback of
the boy and his mother lost in the woods in a forgotten past moment. Tucker elucidates
the enigma of the mother’s descent into insanity. As a portent of the menacing
reality that will soon grip his family, the poet notes “a quail whirs up from
a thicket,/the wingbeats fan the boy’s hair as he grips/ his mother’s hand and
turns to watch the bird disappear…” Tucker frequently describes not simply the
ordinary, but the super-ordinary, how objects become symbols for mystery, for
forces of the unknown.
a time when too many trendy (or, as the current cliché goes, “edgy”) American
poets churn out voluptuous stanzas that turn on nothing, when the poet’s life
history is often more important than the poem, when the Emperor’s new clothes
have not yet made it out of the drier, Tucker’s refined, but accessible and simply
stated poems resonate with an elegant airing of the mystery embedded in ordinary
love and work.
Stever from the Winter, 2007 issue of Home Planet News, ed. Donald Lev.
Stever’s Frozen Spring won the 2002 Mid-List Press First Series Award for
Poetry. Her chapbook, Reading the Night Sky, won the 1996 Riverstone Press
Chapbook Competition. Her poems and essays have appeared in the New England
Review, West Branch, Connecticut Review, Rattapallax, and elsewhere. She is
the founding editor of the Slapering Hol Press.
by Mark Sadan
review really touched me. Thank you, thank you for such a sensitive reading of
my poems and for writing about them so well. I am especially grateful for your
singling out some of the poems that were the toughest to write or, at least, took
the longest to finish, the poems about my mother in particular. And I love the
concluding paragraph, especially the line about the Emperor's new clothes.
has been a busy summer. I went to Breadloaf, part of my Bakeless duty. I was a
teaching fellow, assisting Toi Derricotte in a class of ten aspiring poets. That
was fun, but I think I am not a big fan of these workshop writing exercises, though
I learned that most creative writing teachers seem to have an arsenal of them.
I met some nice people, Linda Gregerson, for example, and a 59-year-old teacher
from Houston who has just started writing poetry and is really incredible. I encouraged
her to enter the Slapering Hol contest. It was an interesting mix at Breadloaf:
a lot of youngsters but also a fair number of geezerish folks like me.
Thursday I read at the Library of Congress along with Galway Kinnell. I was picked
by Poet Laureate Don Hall, my old teacher. There were about a 130 of 140 people
I would guess. Here is one moment you will like I think: At the signing table
following the reading, a young couple grilled me about Days When Nothing Happens.
The woman is taking a course on book binding somewhere in DC was totally blown
away by the beautiful work Slapering Hol did on the book. She professed she hadn¹t
read the poems inside it but was buying the book because it is so beautiful! She
kept inspecting it, rubbing the type on the cover and admiring the inside pages
type. I share her admiration, of course. The book still strikes me as understatedly
you are well and writing and that things are good at the Center which has done
so much to help me continue writing and get my poems out there.
With warm regards and lasting thanks,
Tucker, personal letter to Margo Stever, 2006.)
Tucker won the 2005 Bakeless Prize for poetry and a 2007 Witter Bynner Fellowship;
his book, Late for Work, selected by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip
Levine, was just published by Houghton Mifflin and includes this poem, from his
prize-winning chapbook for Slapering Hol Press, Days When Nothing Happens.
His poems have appeared in dozens of magazines, most recently Atlanta Review
and Mississippi Review. He is a Deputy Managing editor at the Star-Ledger
in New Jersey and part of the team that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for breaking