Dancing Naked in Front of Dogs, by Michael Maul, was offered to me by my contact at Fly on the Wall Poetry Press. It does not, however, appear to be one of their books (my assumption – no such claims were made). Does this matter? Probably not, although I am wary of taking any book that has been self-published. I read this one not realising it had been so no preconceptions leaked in. On discovering afterwards I was not surprised. It is a mixed collection in terms of quality of writing.
The poems were written over a six year period and are divided into four chapters. There are many that muse on aging and death. The author is a white American in his seventies who has stated he writes of the emotional toll of everyday life with the aim of offering poetry that is accessible. I found the poems reflecting on wider issues, featuring characters from a variety of walks of life, the most rewarding.
The collection opens with a punch to the gut. Anniversary Poem is a powerful reflection on the day the narrator’s brother disappeared.
“I stood on the sidewalk
by my parents
when my brother set off
on his first ride solo around the block
and never came back
For fifty years some of me has waited there”
This is followed by Chasing the Ex – a regret tinged remembrance of a short lived marriage and the person the narrator could have been.
“That what I thought I was, but then became
were not really both the same,
old enough now to see
no lights from days up ahead
shining even half as bright
as those I saw in her
and she saw, once, in me.”
Wedding Bouquet offers a picture perfect wedding moment that is then rejected and restaged when the ‘wrong’ person catches the titular bouquet. The cruelty of the mother of the bride is breathtaking, the other guests complicit.
Body Heat captures a simple moment between lovers, when one slips out of bed to take a shower and the other relishes the heat lingering on the sheets on a bitter winter’s day. Many of the poems try to capture such everyday snapshots, with mixed success.
Back to School deals with a parenting milestone, when a child first runs into school without thinking to say goodbye.
“Among parents still hugging their kids
I pretend to wave goodbye
to a boy
not only out of sight
but already gone.”
The moments written of in these poems are recognisable and relatable. They are significant to the narrator for a variety of reasons.
There are some that deal with heavy issues, such as Getting Something Off Her Chest (cancer) or The Clothes of Children Claimed by Fire (an horrific bus accident), yet somehow fail to resonate.
Others are crafted with a cadence that read as too contrived. Poetry requires layers and depth more than rhyme.
I enjoyed To The Little Girl Who Kissed My Dog, despite its lack of nuance for what the mother may be going through.
“Yours will be a better life than hers
And you are right to not eat everything
she puts in front of you.
Fear, after all, is a life-long meal,
that once begun your choices are two:
you feed on it,
or it feeds on you.”
The experiences offered are most often lived by a man, perhaps of a similar age to the author. The supporting cast too often appears two-dimensional.
The author may be writing for a particular audience, those who will recognise themselves in his words. It was only in glimpses that I caught a wider empathy between these pages.
My copy of this book was provided gratis.