Wes Berry Reviews
~ Professor of American Literature, Western Kentucky University
Dennis Rush's "Mayfield" is composed of short clear-spoken lyric poems that tell a story of his trip from New York to far western Kentucky to help with the Dec. 2021 tornado cleanup. He brings the kids along. I'm impressed by the swift publication, less than 5 months after the tornados. These are poems written swiftly, without artifice. They read like journal entries with a poet's eye for surprising observations.
I am looking at a large tree
that only has one remaining limb
bent upward at the elbow and
broken at the wrist.
It looks like a saguaro cactus
holding a wilted sheet of metal roofing
in the crook of its arm.
The back cover of the book is a photo of the tree described.
I read the book in an evening. As I read, I thought of potential critics who might accuse Dennis of "disasterporn," but the poet's attitude--sincere, uncertain--put those thoughts to rest.
It's been a productive poetry year for Dennis. His first collection What Are the Rich Doing Tonight? came out less than a year ago. I relished those poems speaking of blue collar work and rural lives. This collection has that same down-to-earth style and honest narrative voice. I'll end with some of my favorite lines:
I understand how it makes sense
at certain times
to take a little extra
when you've never had
a little extra.
I'm playing the long game. Infinity
will help make this life no more
than one night in a bad hotel.
So hang in there, unfortunate friends.
Tomorrow is just around
What Are the Rich Doing Tonight?
My southern-Barren County raised comrade Dennis Rush has made a striking book of lyric poems. It arrived in our rural Warren Co. mailbox yesterday. I started reading at bedtime and kept turning pages until the final poem 70 pages later. This morning I shared a couple favorites with Elisa, who was impressed by Dennis's artful straight talk, describing everyday life in clear terms with some surprising twists of mind, as in "Siphoning," which moves from septic tanks to oak and perhaps beech leaves to the poem's final funny reflection, "What are the rich doing tonight?" When people I know ask me to read their work, the responsibility comes with anxiety that the writing won't suit my tastes and then I'll have to hurt someone's feelings or else lie about it. In these poems, I discovered an honest voice speaking about the pains, drudgery, and often beauty of farm and factory work, raising animals, parenting, spouses, with a strong current of insects, frogs, birds, trees and such running through all. I'm reminded of my favorite poets Gary Snyder, William Carlos Williams, Maurice Manning, Ann Fisher-Wirth, and Philip Levine. I'm going to read all these poems again and look forward to sharing them with students. Well done, Dennis Rush of Dry Fork, Kentucky roots! I remember seeing "Denny" dribbling a basketball on the country road as we passed his house on the way to country church near Tracy, KY. He now lives way up there in New York state. I hope Dennis keeps scribbling these "radically lucid" poems.