Plainsongs Critique

February 18th, 2010

from Michael Catherwood, Plainsongs  editor
Winter 2010 issue  (poem follows)

In fluid language, Rikki Santer’s poem “On Riverside Drive” pulls no punches.  Santer quickly does away with predictable youthful pastorals and submerges us into a world of childhood “suburban/ cruelty” that is “slippery and staining” and where no nickname goes unpunished.
There is an undercurrent of revenge in “Riverside” and Santer’s gritty use of surprising images slows us down to see the “ant carcasses” and “Debbie the Tattler” [‘s] “welted shin”; her offense indicated by her moniker, a repeated motif in the poem.  Slowly we see the hidden sins of the neighborhood.  As the list builds, we discover a “smartass clubhouse” which hides “sickly cough syrup bottles,/  a dozen stripped and beheaded Barbies.”
But we must not miss the beauty in Santer’s images.  Each line seems perfectly chiseled:  “We pull drapes tight and dissolve measured/ bites of Lorna Doones in milk mugs; crumbs/ litter our Ouija board.”  The assonance and alliteration ring throughout the poem.  Also, Santer’s use of enjambed lines and stanzas creates interesting tensions:  “suburban/cruelty”;  grenades/ rebound”; and “marble/ angel.”  With each turning phrase, Santer exquisitely works the language, juxtaposing lush sounds with unexpected images.
As we move through the quatrains, even though the startling images are raw, nothing deadly has really happened yet.  The revenge has been name calling and some welts.
Then of course in stanza seven, we discover a leap of deadly spite.  Santer sets up for some childhood meanness but doesn’t prepare us for “Gay Tony [‘s]…wire terrier strangled right in the middle/ of Riverside Drive.”  We are left stunned, asking questions about where he cruelty “On Riverside Drive” comes from, a seemingly unusual place, but upon closer examination, a place with hidden terror.

Michael Catherwood, Plainsongs  editor
Winter 2010 issue

On Riverside Drive

no rivers but many sides, sad ravines
in concrete cracks where ant carcasses
pile up under hot magnifying glasses.
Like globs of grape jelly, suburban
cruelty is slippery and staining.
Debbie the Tattler wears a welted shin
delivered by my brother’s plastic bat
and the toe of my oxford.  Partners, we wear
terrorism like pee in our pants grown cold.
Retard Sally and her dachshund trot down
the sidewalks trailing their damp rope leash.
Sally mutters to herself; our name grenades
rebound off the dog ears of the movie star
mag that she reads inches from her fat glasses.
Other neighborhood Rejects lust after the valor
stashed in our smartass clubhouse:
cigarette butts, sticky cough syrup bottles,
a dozen stripped and beheaded Barbies.
They whine to be at the feet of our TV,
first color console on the block.  We pull
drapes tight and dissolve measured bites
of Lorna Doone cookies in milk mugs.  Crumbs
litter our Ouija board.  Then it’s 3 am and we’re torn
by the howling from the gut of Gay Tony home
from his backstage job at the Burlieque–
his wire terrier,  a strangled heap right in the middle
of Riverside Drive.  Next weekend a headstone
serves up blue tulips at the deepest end
of his swimming pool.  We jump
his fence, scamper over aqua tiles
and stare into the eyeballs of a marble
angel who will lift her robe to chase us.

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