Rhythm and Blues
by David Stephenson, recipient of the 2007 Richard Wilbur Award, is a compelling and provocative collection of poems which examine our post-industrial culture and consciousness from varying perspectives and in varying poetic modes. As James Fowler comments, "Like the machinery he often contemplates -- a metaphor for our own workings and breakdowns -- Stephenson's poems are formally sturdy and complex." Yet his various and meticulously crafted poems are far more than just accurate observations of the peculiar world that surrounds us because they not only delineate our failings, but they also strive for transcendence. As Fowler explains, "Through it all, Stephenson avoids bad faith and cautiously seeks grounds for its opposite." Rhythm and Blues
is a stunning first book by a remarkably talented, thoughtful, and unique poetic voice.
David Stephenson s poems, like the machines he often writes about, are meticulously made and orderly, the work of a poet driven by a need to impose order on and to find sanity in his disheveled world. That he succeeds as often as he does in making poetry out of ordinary things is a tribute not only to the acuity of his observation but also to the artist's imagination that transfigures what he sees into surprising poetic perceptions.
There is wisdom in this collection, a plain-spoken, convincing style, and a sense of irony about what it means to live in a world that contains evangelists on motorcycles and workers in a Twinkie plant. A man of both science and poetry, Stephenson shows us, in so many ways, how we live -- all the time with impressive technical skill.
The title of Rhythm and Blues is apt: these poems, couched in the clearest diction and in expertly handled formal verse, convey the dark, stoic truthfulness typical of blues lyrics. They range from stunning sonnets and villanelles to brief vignettes, and include long dramatic monologues by a series of wholly candid "rogues" who tell us more about ourselves than we may want to know. The author moves with perfect ease from urban landscapes full of the junk of our culture, to the imagined lives of literary and historical figures, to biblical scenes and lurid events in squalid careers, in order to create a troubling, cohesive, persuasive view of the world in language that rivets attention and stays with you.
--Rhina P. Espaillat