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Table of

Cheryl A. Rice

by Daniel Crocker
Stubborn Mule Press, 2018
ISBN# 978-1-946642-71-4
172 pp., $15, paper

Few poets in the mainstream are as straightforward as Daniel Crocker. Few poets are challenged with as much to be straightforward about. Bi-polar, bisexual, born and raised in the corporately contaminated town of Leadwood, Missouri, Crocker covers more personal territory in his New and Selected Poems than many others do in a lifetime. The work spans twenty years, from 1998 to 2018, and near the beginning of the collection, after a Table of Contents uninterrupted by notes about which poem came from which book or chapbook, is “People Everyday,” a working man’s overture in words, summing up his assignment:

                      People everyday
                                  turn into what
                                              they were not meant to be
                                                           made into but
                                                           were forced
            to be made into what they
            were meant to be.

The poem is in ten parts, and moves from topic to topic, style to style, a sampler of what Crocker can do, and what his work is about. Parts IV and V recall Whitman and Ginsberg in style, but the content is all Crocker:

             And sometimes I’m in love w/ Missouri
             where the rivers are flowing glass
             and the sky lies naked and spread eagle
             and friends dance in and out
             like dreams drunk on wine

and this:

	         People Everyday suicidal!
	         People Everyday psychopathic!
	         People Everyday lonely!
	         People Everyday in my ass!
	         People Everyday lips on dick!...

His long-time marriage is inspiration for much of his work, including selections I recognized from a recent chapbook, “Gamma Rays,” where Crocker assumes the dual personas of Bruce Banner and the Hulk from comic book lore. The metaphor seems over the top at first, but the internal conflicts that must always have been inside Bruce/Hulk are a brilliant, transluscent mask for the poet’s own issues:

The Incredible Hulk Tries to Write a Poem

but his cucumber fingers
keep getting in the way

He smashed the keyboard
all to hell and pencils
mean broken lead and splinters

Pens make a mess that nobody
wants to clean up
Hulk is used to it
he’s made so many messes

Society seems to be slowly catching up to Daniel Crocker. He is the right poet in a time of deep struggles for understanding poverty, sexuality, mental health and addiction issues. Several poems wrestle unapologetically with the lingering memory a youthful, ill-fated romance:

…Something older than
Kentucky rain fell

between us

Then we kissed

We had to be careful
getting caught risked a beating.
It was like something
out of a goddamned movie…

There are an equal number of love poems in the collection for Crocker’s wife, mostly the kind love poems that go unwritten, after love has been tested and proven to be a alliance more complex than a kiss stolen at a party:

…My wife never got that beautiful
diamond ring she wanted, but
in consolation

my pills look like white moons

There is the contemplation of suicide in these pages, the challenges of fatherhood and family, deaths of a brother, sister, and faith, all provoking vastly different responses. There is the poisoning of the land he grew up on, the town from which the book takes its title, and the long-standing consequences of unpunished crimes.

The readers of HPN will not shy away from such force, such a graceful explosion of sorrow and, eventually, tentatively, hope, but if you have friends who still cannot believe that poetry can be of the people and for the people, buy them a copy of “Leadwood.” Daniel Crocker is one of us, for better or worse. He’s just found the perfect words to share those common experiences, and like it or not, there is something in these pages for every one of us to connect with.