They Speak of Fruit by Gary L. McDowell
Publisher: Cooper Dillon Books
Dog Eared Review by Lindsey Lewis Smithson (review contributor)
Reviewing chapbooks is often a different task than looking at a full collection of poems, and Gary L. McDowell’s The Speak of Fruit was no exception. Just like writing a short poem where every single word has to count and carry one, sometimes two meanings, the same can be said for forming a chapbook. In longer poems, longer collections, and often times in prose, there is space to slow down, let some images punch and others just linger. There can be no lingering in good chapbooks, only a series of punches that must land. I may only dog ear one or two pages in a full collection of poems and still love it, but in a chapbook I find, more often than not, that the better books have the most folded down corners. I bent up my copy of They Speak of Fruit badly.
The second poem in the collection, “Nectar,” feels like the actual beginning of the book, with the first, “All Stones are Broken Stones,” merely a preface. McDowell starts out strong, demonstrating the real power of good line breaks, writing “I found my history in the tiny,” and again later in the final stanza
And for that, I offer a prayer:
hummingbird, fly in to my mouth and lay
your head under my tongue
Let me turn your death
against my teeth
and weigh it, and weigh myself.
If the reader keeps that final stanza in mind while reading the entire collection each poem that follows becomes more meaningful. There is power in the small, the insects, the fruit, the quiet moments in life: “weight it, and weight myself.”
Another stand out moment in the collection is the speaker’s question, “Where have we been and how is it we’ve never lost our way?” This question appears “Blackbirds,” where the complex relationship between the speaker, his father, his grandfather, a rifle and the blackbirds they hunt is played out. A similar thought is expressed in “Yellow Jackets,” with the speaker, who is spying on a hive of bees says, “I’ve come to see the Queen’s chambers/[…]/so I can tell her that I am/what I seem, but the hive is jumping/and there is not language to convince her.” This awe at the outside world and how we are a part of it, separate from it, and all equally subjected to it makes They Speak of Fruit an image driven collection that puts the day to day business of life into perspective.
Dog Eared Pages: 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 21, 23, 26, 27, 28, 29
Lindsey Lewis Smithson is the Editor of Straight Forward Poetry. Some of her poetry has appeared on , , , and