The American Pragmatist Fell in Love by Tom Devaney

Tom Devaney
Banshee Press ($10)

by Joanna Furhman

Tom Devaney's first book of poems, The American Pragmatist Fell in Love, serves as an antidote to the rarified aestheticism common in many avant-garde and academic poems. The details he includes have the "ring of authenticity" without the self-consciousness that term implies. These are playful, philosophical, subtle poems. His energetic lyrics demonstrate a care and craft surprising in what might, at first glance, appear to be unmitigated boisterousness.

These are, without a doubt, fun poems. Who wouldn't be charmed by a poem that starts, "You know that movie with Don Knotts and the fish?" Still, it's a mistake to equate their playfulness for flippancy. In "Bee Beard Sonnet," one of series of "sonnets" (in the Bernadette Mayer sense of that word) that make up the central section of the book, a woman sings silently to herself as bees swarm, in what Devaney refers to as a "beard" around her.

Despite a Politics that must be aware of the threatened bee population—
Old Swarm, asexual attraction:
The grace control not to scratch her head, or break out in song.
Nevertheless, she is singing a silent version of what turns out to be:
"The Sunny Side of the Street."

This moment can be seen as a demonstration of Devaney's poetics. The bees, like all situations from which poetry arises, are both a source of danger and of beauty. The sonnet suggests that the happy tone of many of the poems in the book is analogous to the song the woman sings in order to protect herself from fear.

Devaney's smart and goofy poems may also protect a reader from fear. I am going to try to remember his lines the next time I am approached by a predatory swarm.

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 2000 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2000