From Erie’s Steely Shore

A Review of Dave Lucas’s Weather

Dave Lucas
University of Georgia Press 2011, 68 pages
Reviewed by Karen Pickell

The cover of this appropriately titled volume of poetry evokes the rust-stained concrete beneath any number of old weathered bridges in the hometown I share with Dave Lucas—Cleveland, Ohio. Corrosion runs through many of the early poems in Weather, from the “oxide and spall” in “At the Cuyahoga Flats” to the “threadbare capitals” of “Midwestern Cities.” But a counterpoint of natural awe and poignant reminiscence presented in Lucas’s lyrical language keeps the collection’s climate from becoming inhospitable.

Weather blasts in with “Midst of a Burning Fiery Furnace,” a condemnation of the steel foundries that were once the lifeblood of Cleveland by a speaker who is “also seething / in my depths, I too have come to forge.” Lucas faces the legacy of the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire head on, taking to task those who molded steel into gold without regard for consequences to the native ecology, but ending on an optimistic note—“Go down and tell them what you have seen: / that the river burned but was not consumed”—in the poem “River on Fire.” Despite the fury evident in these poems, Lucas also expresses the extent to which the steel industry is ingrained in Cleveland’s identity when he mourns the removal of defunct ore unloaders from the shore of Lake Erie in “Hulett Ore Unloaders.”

Steel seeps through many of the poems in the collection, as do the waters of Lake Erie. Lucas combines the two together masterfully in “Steelhead,” a narrative about fishing for the popular rainbow trout on a morning when “ breath / hangs like an insult / in the steely chill.” The poem is composed of cinquains made of short lines that perfectly accentuate the tension of reeling in the defiant fish. In “To the Lake,” Lucas compares the great lake to the grander oceans, calling on residents of its shore to “still hesitate, Erie’s sons and daughters, / to call it secondary to the sea.” Weather’s final poem, “Lexicon,” reads like an encyclopedia of intimate Lake Erie knowledge, covering topics such as lake-terns, falling through ice, and lakeside bonfires.

Appropriately, the weather changes as the collection moves through several stages of a person’s life, from a boy searching for Halley’s Comet with his dad, to a man journeying away from home. Along the way, Lucas’s poems make acute observations about growing up and growing older, as in “Suburban Pastoral,” a tale of time passing and patterns repeating over the course of generations in the suburbs of what could be any American city. “In Elegy” deals with death in terms of thawing ice and the shifting continental plates, “where we cannot / imagine how slight the shift that steers / us about the rootless earth, so slow / that we never feel how far / we have been ushered . . .”

Dave Lucas received a Henry Hoyns Fellowship from the University of Virginia, and is currently a PhD candidate in English language and literature at the University of Michigan. He displays a love of classic poetry in poems such as “What the Talkers Were Talking,” in which he borrows from Walt Whitman and James Wright, and “The Twenty-first Century,” in which he incorporates lines from Alfred, Lord Tennyson and William Butler Yeats. For the most part, Lucas’s own voice throughout the collection sounds easy and conversational, although he tends at times toward a more formal diction. Interestingly, “The New Poetry” seems to lambaste the current trend toward confessional poetry as a style that will “eat its own young. / Like an ancient star, it will snuff out / beneath its own density / though we wheel ships by its light.” Lucas does a fine job of including details in his poetry that pull us into his home and heart without overwhelming us with too much information. The poems of Weather have been polished, and I expect they will shine for quite a long time.

Karen Pickell is an assistant editor for Flycatcher.

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