Ada Wofford reviews Dana St Mary’s ‘Giants of Sand’

‘Giants of Sand’ by Dana St. Mary
Published by Alien Buddha Press
ISBN-13: 979-8668191109, $10.44

 

 

‘Giants of Sand’ explores themes of fatherhood, guilt, politics, and failure with exemplary style and a good sense of humor. Dana St. Mary seems equally interested in experimenting with style and word choice as he is in exploring his own issues and the issues of the world. Put simply, this collection holds nothing back and puts everything forward.

 

Giants, gods, and fissures are recurring themes throughout the volume. This collection is about the single thread that ends up unraveling an entire outfit, the hairline fracture that creates a cripple, and the tiny fissure that dethrones a god. On the self-titled opener, St. Mary writes, ‘i have watched great giants fade away and fail/grow desiccated like unwatered grass.’ St. Mary’s refusal to use capitalization seems quite deliberate in this volume and not some cheap gimmick as in so many other volumes. The lack of capitalization illustrates this downfall, this lessening, so frequently referenced throughout. In ‘the god of tiny lies’ he writes, ‘i am the god of empty spaces/false and phony friendly faces/a greedy god that races trace-less/one that wanders through the mazes.’ This is a god that is literally lost; one without purpose, without positive meaning. The giants, they are made of sand—mammoth but weak, falling through one’s fingers.

 

We see this paradoxical quality of huge but weak in the meditations on fatherhood and male-guilt—an illustration of being in possession of power yet realizing it is undeserved and unqualified. Juxtaposed with ‘the god of tiny lies,’ directly on the next page we find, ‘abigail always did make good bread,’ at once a self-lament of the narrator’s shortcomings while also a veritable hymn in praise of his wife,

 

‘compared to my wife i am
a coward and not just
in the manner of she
died to make a family but
more like she rises every
day without rancor knowing
there will be no
thankyou’s’

 

While I’d typically be bored and a bit annoyed by poems of male-guilt, the use of metaphors and self-awareness allow these poems to shine through the riffraff and stand on their own. Other poems in the collection celebrate the quotidian in all of its warmth and silliness. The poem, ‘i, sneak’ is a cute but moving poem about the simple act of being quiet while getting ready to leave the house early in the morning so that you don’t wake anyone up. Other poems get a bit more surreal and strange but are delivered with exquisite form. Take these lines from ‘all these ink-black squid,’

 

‘black ichor-fingered fan-faced
flailing, finding
flagellation worms
warming up the sea
above your upturned mouths’

 

I think poetry should feel good in your mouth when you read it, it should make your tongue dance; this poem certainly succeeds. My favorite of the collection though is, ‘porkpie hat.’ It’s a cute, simple little poem, beautifully executed and echoing William Carlos Williams with its focus on a piece of fruit. It’s the type of poem you can read again and again. It’s the type of poem you want to read again and again. And you’ll keep on enjoying it because like all good poetry, it feels good in your mouth. To read the words makes your tongue dance.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this little volume of poetry and I think you will too. There’s nothing inaccessible here, nothing overtly challenging, but nothing too simple or expected either. I read a lot of contemporary poetry and Dana St. Mary has done something truly unique here. This collection really stands out for its attention to form, its unique imagery, and its self-awareness.