Book Review

Doug Woodsum, The Lawns of Lobstermen, Moon Pie Press, 2010

            Review by David Gross

It’s always a delight to come across good books of poetry by authors whose work I’m not familiar with; The Lawns of Lobstermen is one such book. From the exquisite pen and ink watercolor by the author’s wife JD Asmussen that graces the book’s cover, to the final long poem Carving Your Future that tells the story of a zealous salesman and his pitches about a knife that can perform C-sections and tracheotomies, this book is like taking a drive with the author, in his old pickup, through the towns and countryside of coastal Maine.

In the title poem we’re introduced to his neighbors who still earn their livelihood from the ocean: 

                       Because they cannot live without the sea
                       they bring it home with them. It starts with boats:
                       skiffs, punts or dinghies… the outboard workboat, all
                       flat-bottomed or leaning, keeled to one side…
                      always little boats in the green harbors
                      of their lawns.
                                                              (The Lawns of Lobstermen)
   Then a little later, while walking the beach near the poets home:
                      A whale has died and turned orange. It heaves
                      And rolls in medium sized waves and looks
                      Like a giant sweet potato.
                                                             (Bon Voyage, Large Orange Friend)

The simple, accessible language and strong imagery are only part of the appeal these poems  offer, the close attention to form, rhythm and occasionally rhyme is always evident.

He takes his neighbors advice on getting a cantankerous hog into the back of his truck:
                     Put a five gallon bucket
                     on that pig’s head. Lift up one rear leg,
                     and use it like a tiller. Steer that pig backwards
                     with that raised leg. Drag and push the bast’d
                     right up your ramp. Don’t stop once you start.

But ends up asking:
                    You ever try to put a five gallon bucket on a pig’s head?
                                                            (First Pig)

Doug Woodsum is a master of long, loose lined narrative poems:
          With ease, their legs bend then straighten; their wings gesture across
          the landscape of fields, darkening woods and outbuildings. They take off
          as the sun takes light at dusk, as a brush runs out of paint.
                                       (Misplaced Landscape With Sandhill Cranes)

and just as adept in subtly formal verse:

                    The ribs of the Queen Anne’s lace
                    Curl up when the lace is gone:
                    Burnt by a fiery season,
                    Faded from green to brown…
                                                            (December: The Queen’s Remains)

It is not necessary to elaborate on the technicality of these poems; Woodsum is a former Ruth Lilly poet and a winner of the Bread Loaf Poetry Prize. As far as the depth of experience these poems cover, here’s a short random selection of titles: The Old Squaws of Corea Harbor, Pitcher Plants in January, Spooked Moose, Blackberry War, Going Under the Barn.

Doug Woodsum is a fine poet and this is an admirable collection of poetry, beautifully produced, thematically diverse and memorable. I’ve never been to Maine, but after reading The Lawns of Lobstermen it felt as if I’d just returned from a vacation out east. Seek this book out; you’ll enjoy it.

David Gross recently retired after 35 years as a union carpenter and organizer. His most recent collection of poetry Pilgrimage is available on Amazon or from Finishing Line Press