Book Review

Dandelions: New Poems by Dave Etter. Red Dragonfly Press. 2010. $15.00

     Reviewed by Lou Roach

Dave Etter’s newest book, Dandelions, his thirty-first publication, offers the reader a collection of poems as rich as the harvests of the countryside where he lives.  His word-sketches of life in and around small villages in the Middle West, and Lanark, Illinois, in particular, highlight the personalities, the practicality and the unpretentious lifestyles of the people he has come to know so well.

Etter reveals his reverence for place, some of his varied interests and his appreciation for life with the introductory “In the Morning When the Sun Comes Up”:

     I will do what I can do as long as I can do.
     To speak, hear, and see, to taste, smell and feel.
     . . .
     New work gloves in the barn looking for work.
     . . .
     Grain elevators talk in their sleep.
     Old brown shoes, we’re going walking today.
     To the river with Mark Twain and Richard Bissell.
     Fishing in the slow, green, corn-growing afternoon.
     . . .
     Blinding white light delights the waterlilies.
     . . .
     I want so much to write the words I love forever.

From the title poem, “Dandelions,” we learn how the poet values even the smallest bits of nature and also how he sees the people too often deemed “least” among us:

     The little children of the poor
     is what I have named them.
     . . .
     They very much want to belong,
     to be liked for who they are.
     But like the weak and poor everywhere
     they are looked upon as a bad dream,
     a nuisance, not wanted, stepped on
     . . .
     I’m talking about my friends,
     the yellow dandelions of this world,
     . . .
     It seems nobody loves them,
     and few tolerate them
     . . .
     Only a child here and there                                                                                         
     . . .
     or perhaps a caring teacher . .

Etter writes his narratives in a plain-spoken manner, but his carefully thought-out verses are anything but plain.  He captures loves, losses, sadness and delight by “showing” readers what he sees with a naturalness and grace.

In the poem “The Sadness of Joy” he describes a parent’s pleasure about a visit from an adult son, the mutuality of interests and the shared closeness of  “just being” with one another:

     My son George and I were browsing
     in a well-stocked bookstore
     in Rock Falls, Illinois.
     He bought a book on the Dalai Lama.
     I bought a book on Dylan Thomas.
     . . .
     After coffee. . .
     looked at the fireflies from the porch.
     He smoked a cigar and I smoked my pipe.
     We talked about jazz and blues
     . . .
     He said he had to get going,
     but promised us he’d stay longer next time.
     Peggy kissed him three times.
     I walked with him to his blue truck
     . . .
     He backed out of the driveway.
     I followed him to the street
     and then watched him fade from sight
     on the twice blessed day of sadness.

Dave Etter’s awareness of and concern for the needs and feelings of the young are expressed in a number of poems:  “Now His Voice Is Changing,” “Girl Upside Down In a Green Apple Tree,” and “Invisible Scars.”  He exhibits a sensitivity for explicit and thorough detail in these selections, as well as in “The Farmer’s Twelve Children,” a pensive commentary on a farm sale and the simple ways in which the youngsters of the family faced with losing their familiar comforts cope by doing what they’ve always done:
     Under a foreclosure sky,
     see the farmer’s twelve children,
     one playing in the dirt,
     one eating red grapes,
     one bouncing a rubber ball,
     one chasing an old dog,
     one kicking a tin can,
     one chewing on a duck’s feather,
     one talking about the weather,
     one banging an iron pot,
     one climbing a dead tree,
     one looking at a pig book,
     one swatting blue flies,
     one pulling sticky weeds,
     all the farmer’s twelve children
     under a foreclosure sky.

Etter’s expertise in telling an old story from a new perspective is evident in the above and in several others in the book, including “Ambulance,”  “Bus Stop,” “Geranium,”  and “Yesterday I Heard The Rain.”  He tells his readers the truth, but sometimes tells it “slant.”

For me, reading this volume of poems was like visiting rural areas where life is sometimes difficult, but often rewarding, and strong values are visible as one comes to know the people and their sense of independence.  I identify with Etter’s deep respect for the people and the places to be found in the heartland of America. I’ve lived more than half my life in small towns and villages and recognize this writer’s contentment with a quiet, unaffected way of life. 

I could find nothing to question or contradict in his elegantly simple accounts of country life. I am eager for the next report from “Sunflower County." 
Lou Roach, former social worker and psychotherapist, lives in Poynette. Her poems have appeared in a number of small press publications, including Main St. Rag, Free Verse and others. She has written two books of poetry, A Different Muse and For Now. She continues to do freelance writing, although poetry is her favorite thing to do.