A poem by Robert McDowell
Robert McDowell’s first book of poems, Quiet Money, appeared from Holt in 1987. His poems, essays, and fiction are published widely here and abroad, and his revised edition of the classic text, Sound and Form in Modern Poetry, was published by the University of Michigan Press. McDowell is also the editor of Poetry After Modernism; and co-translated from Czech, Ota Pavel’s short stories, How I Came to Know Fish.
“McDowell is more than the most interesting young poet to have emerged in the U.S.A. recently, he is also the prophet of shortish narrative poetry . . .” – Herbert Lomas, Ambit
“In each of five chapters, McDowell relates the most crucial developments in one decade (1950’s through 1990’s) of the shared lives of Al and Eleanor and their son, Tom. The whole poem resembles a very good novel-in-story.” - Booklist
“. . . some of the best American poetry in the future will be written by poets who have simply brushed aside Derridean anxieties . . . to write poems with a strong narrative line . . . Robert McDowells [chapter] The Fifties, for instance has the scope of a novel and uses effects learned from cinema and Expressionist drama as well as poetry.” – Ian Gregson, Los Angeles Times / Book Review
(from) The Seventies
The lottery, with Vietnam the prize,
Takes place for Tom in 1971.
In the college cafeteria he squirms
Beside the others sweating out the draw.
If they could gaze into the months ahead
They’d see their roster cut, some figures fading . . .
Like the kid from Little Rock who’ll fall on his cot,
Then drop from earth when a shell explodes his hut;
Like Clem, the unofficial pharmacist,
Who in a fire fight will take three rounds
But stay alive enough to crawl a mile
Through bamboo as thick as cotton in a bottle;
Like Frank who read and wrote his own escape
Out of the barrio of East L.A.,
Who will never see the tunnel open up
Behind him on patrol, the boy lean out
And squeeze the trigger of his captured rifle;
Like Ernie, left wing photojournalist
And active campus speaker against the war -
He’ll sacrifice this life for Canada -
A wasted missing number like the rest.
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Cover illustration: by Lysa McDowell
Publication: 1995 (72 pages laminated paperback)