Dickhead is a new book of poems from Wayne F. Burke, the author of Words that Burn. Dickhead is divided into six sections, each with its own theme, though there are subtle associations woven throughout. You may recognize “Lark up the Nose of Time,” which was published in Commonline Journal. “Lark” will give the prospective reader an accurate idea of the free-wheeling, down-on-his-luck, no-whining, zero-fucks-given attitude they can expect from Burke.
This is a multilayered work from a poet who is keenly aware of his own territory versus that of the Midwest or South or overseas but chooses to forge inroads anyway. He is an earthy pragmatist with a surreal inner life. He is an insomniac dreamer. He is not afraid of a fight but is conscientious of the few fragile things around him.
If Burke’s Dickhead seems paradoxical at times, that is because it is (in part) a coming-of-age story in which a rabbit must metamorphose into a snake. Two very different views of the world co-exist within the narrator. In one of the very first poems, "Mammals & Reptiles," the adults at the zoo watch a snake eat a rabbit. The narrator, then the child, “hops” to the cobra cage where a snake rears up and tries to strike him through the glass. “Showdown” elaborates on this theme. On the surface it appears to be an adolescent conflict, but it is also a rite of passage into the world of cobras. His uncle stares at him
with the glare that used to
pin me like a rabbit
but this time I glared back
By the time this rabbit-turned-cobra has become a “Sophomore,” he speeds “along snaky roads.”
This is a coming-of-age story, yes, but that is only one of the six sections. A potential reader may be tempted think that this review is like one of those irritating movie trailers that show all the best bits of a film before they have a chance to watch it, but I am merely offering a glimpse. There are so many intertwining themes to Dickhead that a reviewer can afford to explore a few of them while still leaving most territory uncharted. These include but are not limited to themes of alienation, loneliness, and a feeling of being driven, without knowing where or by what.
Burke’s work is infused with an East-coast attitude that is often misunderstood as posturing. Yet Dickhead is not bravado or an attempt to shock. It is a way of life. These are not generic poems with place-names inserted. They are rich with associations (some of them intentional, some of them unconscious) peculiar to this area. E.g. flinging his underwear into a river and picturing it found as a white fish: this may be an unconscious association to the “Allegheny whitefish.” This kind of deeply ingrained association means that Dickhead is about more than mere location. It is a mindset and a way of interacting with the world.
The first poem, “One,” sets the tone when the narrator sees
a guy who looks like me:
I clench my fists
in case he tries to
The narrator is not the only one with this habitual reaction to the appearance of himself in others. In “Old Buddy,” a long-time friend sees himself in the narrator’s mirror-glasses and readies himself to attack—the narrator chooses to defuse the situation by removing his glasses.
Paradoxically, while craziness is a way of life (“are you loco?” / “yes, I am”) the narrator is not a loose cannon. He silently considers whether or not he will have to break a man’s hand in “The Faamer.” When working as a security guard, he
“hoped no one would break in
and bother me”
This speaks more to wanting everyone out of his face than it to getting into the faces of others. Dickhead is full of paradoxical twists, wordplay, subtle associations and darkly funny atmosphere. In the poem “Buk,” the poet muses on being compared to Bukowski. Burke describes Bukowski as the
If a speaker's accent involves fat vowels (i.e. “Faamer” for Farmer), Burke sounds a lot like Buk.
The Author: Wayne Burke's work has appeared in FORGE, miller's pond, and Northeast Corridor. He was poet-of-the-month in Bareback, 7-13.
The Editor: Ada Fetters has been published in The Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Copperwood Review, Humanist Magazine, Niche, Tertulia, Debris, Poetry Pacific Magazine, Pink.Girl.Ink and most recently in Bewildering Stories.