Lit Gloss

Jeff McDaniel.

By Liz Spikol
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jul. 2, 2008

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When Sarah Lawrence professor Jeff McDaniel came back to Philly, where he grew up, to do a poetry reading a couple weeks ago, his childhood friend Drew O'Leary was in the audience. After O'Leary heckled McDaniel a few times during the reading, McDaniel quipped, "Man. This is too intimate." I also called out once during the reading, when McDaniel mentioned a gang of kids who used to beat us up. McDaniel and I went to school together, and he lived down the block. But I wouldn't have pegged him for a future NEA Fellow and award-winning poet with several books to his name. He seemed more likely to end up in reform school. In "Origins," from his newest book The Endarkenment, you can see some of his old edge: "I'm from sucker punches and a mouthful of blood spit in my face/ I'm from a nightgown breathing at the bottom of a staircase/ I'm from I wished you died in that hospital/ I'm from exit plans that involve shotguns/ I'm from you gonna front like the hard guy, you better back that shit up." Tough talk. But in a more elegant vein, McDaniel writes, "I'm sorry I was late./ I was pulled over by a cop/ for driving while blindfolded/ with a raspberry-scented candle/ flickering in my mouth." Other poems are accessible even to poetry-haters, like one about the fate of heavy breathers in the wake of caller ID, or the title poem, in which McDaniel writes he watches Fox News "when I'm feeling pornographic." It's hard to pull off such a mix--melancholic and comic, vulgar and eloquent. But McDaniel is from Philly, a city full of peculiar contradictions. Come back soon, Jeff.

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