Review

The New York Postcard Sonnets
A Midwesterner Moves to Manhattan

by Philip Dacey (Nigeria 1963–65)
Rain Mountain Press
September 2007
73 pages
$10.00

Reviewed by Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala 1991–93)

    PHILIP DACEY’S POEMS about New York City contain a kid-in-a-candy-shop glee.
         How refreshing.
         In Dacey’s poems there is no cynicism; there is no poetry that only poets can understand (or pretend to understand); and there is no deadly somberness or dull seriousness or self-satisfied sarcasm.
         There is crisp language, loose but imaginative adherence to an old form (the sonnet), and, above all, celebration. Every poem is a celebration of the crazy and glorious, the messy and beautiful metropolis of New York.
         Each poem is as brief as a postcard, written from the eyes-wide-open perspective of a newcomer. Dacey appears to find just about everything interesting. And we see why. Through his eyes (and, thus, ours) it’s all fascinating and fresh.
         There’s Dacey meeting a Walt Whitman impersonator and watching a Shakespeare play in Central Park.
         There’s Dacey visiting the Irish Hunger Memorial and attending a performance at Julliard.
         There’s Dacey walking into a mirrored room at the West Side Y and seeing a tap dancer who once performed with Gregory Hines. The dancer invites Dacey to watch his rehearsal. “And now he cranks it up. A private show/Broadway for one. Center aisle. Front row.”
         Some of Dacey’s sonnets are composed chiefly of quotations overheard on the street or in other casual circumstances. These tend to be his funniest. The first stanza of Sonnet 7:

    Remarks overheard in passing on the street:
    “I told you not to sleep with him.” “My goal
    was ten thousand.” “Let’s get a taxi, goddamnit.”
    “If it makes you feel good, be nasty.” “What’s your schedule?”

         And where else but in New York can one find a dermatologist who quotes T.S. Eliot and leaves his patient thusly: “But I really have to go—/enough talk of moles and Michelangelo”?
         There are only indirect references to September 11th in Dacey’s book. This doesn’t feel like an omission. The poet is in a celebratory state of mine, one that carries across the several years the poems chronicle. And, anyway, who would report bad news in a postcard?
         In his Author’s Note, Dacey writes that one of his earliest memories was of watching the Rockettes execute “their drill of high kicks” onstage at Radio City Music Hall. He returned to New York in 1963, having just been married, and lived with his wife in a dorm in Barnard College, which the Peace Corps was using to house Volunteers on their way to Nigeria. Retiring after thirty-five years from the faculty of Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, he headed again to Manhattan.
         A good move for Dacey. A good move for poetry.

    Mark Brazaitis is the author of The River of Lost Voices: Stories from Guatemala, winner of the 1998 Iowa Short Fiction Award, and Steal My Heart, a novel published in 2000 by Van Neste Books. His most recent collection of stories is An American Affair, winner of the 2004 George Garrett Fiction Prize from Texas Review Press. Brazaitis is an associate professor of English at West Virginia University.