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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

New Release: Wayne F. Burke IN DREAMS WE CHASE THE LION. Alien Buddha Press, 2018 (92 pages).

In Dreams We Chase the Lion is Vermont writer Wayne F. Burke’s latest book of poetry. It includes sixty free verse poems written from a variety of voices and styles. The book is divided into ten parts. The early sections adopt different voices or thematic concerns, whereas the latter sections revert back, for the most part, to what Burke is best known for- his first person, anecdotal narrative poems. 

In a conversation I had today with Burke while he was working with his aged care clients, he briefly explained what he was attempting to do:

The book is a kind of experiment in different voices, at least in the first 3 sections. The "I" not "I"--not wholly anyway--yea I did write it but as imaginative leap into guise of a narrative-other, the hard cartoonish guy (Ramrod), a soldier (Vietnam), a kind of American everyman... Correlates to writing fiction but using poetic form, lines and rhythm.  Sections 4-10 revert back to a voice closer to a narrative "I" identifiable as me (whomever that may be), particularly in late poems of autobiographical nature. 

I agree that the middle sections are a hodgepodge of poems, although there is a connecting theme to each section, theme or form or voice. Maybe not obvious, but I did group poems I thought fit or complimented each other. 

Part 2 is perhaps the best in the collection and includes five poems written from the point of view of American infantry grunts during the Vietnam War. Cola touches on the moral dilemma of killing civilians caught up in the ideology of war:


the kid had stick-arms and legs
and was always smiling;
he hung around asking for “co-cola”
and he ran errands for us
like bringing sticks of tea,
powerful shit,
and for what would be pennies
in the States;
we gave him C-rats
and a shirt that
Elmer printed COLA on
and then one day
while we were gearing-up
to go out on patrol
I see Cola coming down the road at a trot
and him holding one of those conical hats
in front of him
and I screamed “Dung lai!” (stop)
and he hesitated
kept coming
and I pulled my .45
and aimed
and I cursed the god who
put me into such a position
and cursed the war for the slaughter
that it was
and cursed my mother for
giving birth to me
and the kid’s mother for
birthing him
and I shot
and at the sound of the explosion
everyone hit the deck
as the shit flew
and when I looked up
no more kid
just a great big hole
in the earth.

The cover features a naked woman with clawed feet towering above two contented male lions. The art is by Ammi Romero and has a strong mystical feel to it favoured by the 2016 start-up Alien Buddha Press and go-to editor Red Focks.

The title In Dreams We Chase Lions is an odd one in the sense that it is difficult to  distil it from the collection. Burke says of the title, “The title is more or less tacked-on. I think it fits the other-worldliness of the collection. The dream-aura of certain pieces. I may be wrong here. I may be full of you know what. I often am.”

Here's another poem from the collection in which the poet narrates a simple but compelling working class tale:


went to work on a rig
in the patch
slapping steel
outside Wamsutter
the Red Desert of Wyoming
I was the “worm”
the new guy
I stood on a steel mesh floor
at the foot of the 100-foot high tower
and looked out at the snow and
and thought of the song “Home on the Range”
we sung in 3rdgrade
“wake up!” the operator shouted
and a 50-foot long pipe came at me
that I caught
in my gloved hands
and walked across the floor
and positioned the end of it
over the “hole’
where it was screwed into the
previous pipe placed
and sent down the shaft
it was not a job to daydream
while at
the steel did not give a shit
for flesh
a pipe came fluttering
like a knuckle ball
in the wind
I caught it in the crook of my arm
and the thing dragged me
across the floor
and clanged against the pipe stub
sticking out of the hole
my little finger in between
split open like a crushed grape
the boss of the rig, the “pusher”
looked at the finger
and threw the hand from him,
I got a ride back to town
to the doctor
who sewed me up
and I was glad
I still had
ten fingers.

(all poems posted with the permission of the author)

Buy the book here: