SKUNK NIGHT SONNETS. By Daniel Waters. Bright Hill Press, Treadwell, N.Y. 2009. 38 pages. Softcover, $10.
One of my favorite booths at the West Tisbury Artisans’ Fair is that of poet Daniel Waters. It is a wellspring of words! And not just any words, but the crisp, intuitive, fun-filled wordplay of Mr. Waters’ short poems, many of which are displayed on his distinctive hand-carved blockprint greeting cards.
Some of the poems are pure Vineyard:
“Sung to sleep by Nobska Light,
We spend a foggy Vineyard night
Secure that, many miles away,
The ocean keeps the world at bay.”
Others are darkly comic:
“Tis better to have loved and lost
And had your heart removed and tossed
Against a solid granite wall
Than never to have loved at all.”
Mr. Waters, it turns out, also writes sonnets. “There’s almost nothing you can’t say in fourteen lines of iambic pentameter,” says Mr. Waters, and Bright Hill Press has published a 24-poem collection of his work entitled Skunk Night Sonnets. The sonnets, like many of his short verses, are insightful forays into human beings’ sometimes skewered perceptions of life, death and the natural world.
In the sonnet On Vacation, he writes in part:
“A multitude of eyes (and some are many-
lidded) wish me ill throughout the coral
reefs, revile me in the frangipani,
curse me from the swamps as that immoral
interloper with the license plate
proclaiming Florida his Sunshine State.”
He writes about skunks (“houses clench their sashes, windows wincing”), jellyfish (“this crystal parachute, this contact lens, this breast implant whose milkless mound offends”) and starfish (“unlucky star!-you have no way to know we prey on pretty shapes”).
Other titles include Historic Tree—Do Not Climb, The Infestation, May Frost, The Question of Children, On Being Unique, and simply, The Incident.
In Swans, he concludes:
“To be a symbol takes a heavy toll
on man and bird alike. The swan’s curvaceous
interrogatory slouch reveals
how doubtful it feels to own its charm; how nervous
to owe such grace to black and calloused soles,
thrashing like panic just beneath the surface. “
Skunk Night Sonnets was one of two winners of the Bright Hill Press Chapbook Competition and has been published as part of the award. Mr. Waters has won numerous poetry awards and recently retired after three years as West Tisbury Poet Laureate. Many of his poems have appeared in the Vineyard Gazette as well as in Yankee Magazine. He also records verses for the Cape and Island’s NPR station.
His work is so witty and twisted and beautiful it makes me wish we were dear old friends.