DICKHEAD is the second of three poetry collections that Wayne F. Burke has published in recent years by the Canadian publisher BareBackPress. Some of the poems originally appeared in obscure small press mags such as Dead Flowers, Crack the Spine, Lost Coast Review, Fish Food Magazine, Phantom Kangaroo and several others.
In his Author’s Note at the back of the book, Burke interestingly mentions that although he had published two books of literary criticism and numerous book reviews, articles and some short stories in his 40s and 50s, he did not devote himself seriously to poetry until he was diagnosed with arterial heart disease, and subsequently, after his triple by-pass surgery in 2013. He writes, “ I began writing daily and with a sort of vengeance. A schedule I have followed these past two years and one that has resulted in the book you hold in your hand as well as a previously published volume WORDS THAT BURN and at least one future volume,” later published as KNUCKLE SANDWICHES.
DICKHEAD consists of 74 poems which are divided into eight loosely based sections. Most of the poems are lower case, free verse narratives written in a simple, unembellished style. The poems largely derive from Burke’s vast library of personal anecdotes gleamed from several decades of experiences. The subject matter is varied but often focuses on girls, booze, fights, road trips, dead end jobs or a combination of the above. Some of the later poems are associated with Burke’s post heart-surgery life and examine issues, such as, insomnia, inertia, Bukowski and death.
DICKHEAD is a great title for a book of poetry! It takes its name from the poem “Dickhead” which appears towards the end of the collection. Sitting in a park after dark with his tackle out, the persona of the poem absurdly and outrageously gives his penis a voice:
My cock starts to shrink,
retreats like a mole into its hole.
I squint at names of Civil War dead on a plaque.
My cock suddenly stands and salutes:
“suck me suck me,” it says.
“Pipe down!” I say
“do you want to get us arrested?”
“Eat shit,” my cock says,
“and also- keep your goddamn hands off me.”
I zip up.
“I’ll try,” I say
“but no guarantees.”
The poems in the first half of the collection are perhaps amongst the best and include confessional recounts of childhood and young adult threshold tales, usually revealing the anxieties, vulnerabilities and the slim rays of hope of the poet. Best amongst these include “Dead Parents”, “Clown”, “Comb”, “Girlfriend”, “Ballantine” and “A Winner”.
The poem “A Winner” demonstrates tellingly how everything is stacked against the poet and how any victory, however great it may appear at the time, may only be hollow and ephemeral:
Driving home from work at midnight
down the belt-line
doing seventy in my Altima Thule XL
in a ridiculously posted
50 mph zone
a car far behind
comes on strong
maybe a cop
and I slow to sixty
and the car
an old sedan
some peckerwood at the wheel
and I speed up
and we head
neck and neck
down a dog leg
to a hare-pin turn
and the hot shot pulls in front
and when his brake lights go on
I cut into the left lane
and pass him on the turn
as he almost wipes out
as I blow through
the green light,
could have caused a fiery crash-
why’d I do it?
Must have needed to win
(reprinted with the permission of the poet)
The other work of note in the collection are the portrait poems, typically of down & out types, living on the margins & who are discarded by society. The best poems along these lines include, “Alone”, “From Brooklyn He Is”, “Eat A Peach” and “Old Buddy”.
The poem “Old Buddy” is interesting in how it repositions the poet, away from the exuberance of youth to middle age and the sense of dislocation that it can bring:
I stopped in to see my old buddy
in the old neighbourhood
he did not recognize me
because I wore mirror shades
and I thought he might attack
so I tore the glasses off and
then we sat in his backyard which
seemed smaller than I remembered
and when he went back into the house
to get me beer
his mother came out and
looked at me and said
“I wondered who the bald man in the yard was.”
My buddy, who lived in the apartment above
his parents, told me
he was divorced after
his wife ran off with his best friend
and that he, my old buddy, had
was the first book he’d ever read
from beginning to end.
(reprinted with the permission of the poet)
Dickhead is an odd mix of poems which might spark you to write your own shit about sleeping it out in the rough, drunken fist fights, court appearances, crazy road trips and the many fucked-up people you have come across in your life.
For more information about Wayne F. Burke’s poetry follow him on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wayne.burke.980
Buy Dickhead here: https://www.amazon.com/Dickhead-Wayne-F-Burke/dp/1926449053