If you like poems about work, or read Bukowski, Locklin and Levine, you'll dig The Slaughterhouse Poems. If you've drank beer, underage, in fields, or come from a town down on its economic heels, you'll find something of yourself in the 153 pages of Dave Newman's first full-length collection.
Newman, a poet, novelist and Westmoreland County native, is adept at re-creating his surroundings — particularly the slaughterhouse where he worked for what might be the worst part-time job ever. The narratives in The Slaughterhouse Poems (White Gorilla Press) move quickly and thoughtfully as the speaker examines life as a teen in the late '80s. These are poems of perspective that remind this reader how quickly youth is overtaken by adult issues and desires.
The imagery is striking, as poems dealing with slaughterhouses should be. Newman's realist perspective conveys the truth of this work, never sugar-coated or judgmental. A great example is "Killing Floor":
Dead cows the size of small cars
and pigs so fat
you could crawl
inside their carcasses
hung from steel chains
dripping from the rafters.
If I could have walked on the ceiling
I would have looked up
and seen terrible balloons.
It's an insider's tone, but Newman never gets preachy about meat, letting images speak for themselves. Instead of polemic, he's more interested in the lives of friends and co-workers, drawn against the desperation of Reagan's America. One way of dealing is through alcohol, and for better or worse, drinking occupies a large thematic role in the book — especially the epic quest booze signifies for the underage.
However, these tales of drunkenness are heartbreaking and humorous, which keeps the collection from edging into sentimentality. Newman's speaker learns the ropes of early-adulthood with self-deprecating wit, making this funnily accessible.
Accessibility is what Newman seems after in the prose-y "A Line of Poetry," railing against public schools' inability to teach literature of the concrete world, giving poetry a bad rap amongst students. He writes, "I felt humiliated enough to move in the world and find poems written by the living and recently deceased, poems where the men and women on the page move like nurses and factory workers and musicians. / It took years to find a good book."
For readers of The Slaughterhouse Poems, it won't take that long.