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Posted by : cj on Friday, March 11, 2005 - 10:20 AM
Chicago Poetry Reviews: Click Headlines .
Computer Fresco of Dan Cleary by Maggie RubinElegy For James Gerard
And Other Poems For The Larger Voice
by Daniel Cleary
Fractal Edge Press, 2004
Reviewed by C. J. Laity

Under the guise of its dedication to an obscure author --

Your final work "This Gift of Myrrh"
For which we shed a poignant tear
Gathers dust upon the shelf
Unread by all except myself

(from the title poem)

-- the theme of Dan Cleary's "Elegy for James Gerard" is "Love, love, unmistakable love!" There is a great respect for Chicago, its places ("Downtown") and its people ("Poet's Repast" For Joe Roarty) in this inspiring collection of rhyme schemes. The verse searches for innocence and often finds it in such local places as Barbara's Bookstore, but at other times the innocence escapes as merely an illusion:

Some quiet little Eden
Where birds come all the year
And sing and play there every day
And fill the Earth with cheer.

(from "This is How it Is")

What true innocence is found diminishes with time and change:

Now that she's gone the building stands dejected,
Looking no more than what it always was:
A pile of bricks that someone once erected
Obeying neither art nor beauty's law.

(from "Ingred at the Inner Town Pub")

While traveling the pages of this book we find ourselves in well known Windy City spots, such as Wicker Park or Bughouse Square, though the poems that have been inspired by these locales don't pass judgment but observe with a gentleness that is Cleary's trademark.

The soft sweet sandlefoot of fame
Performs her dance for all to hear

(from "Bix Lives At Oakdale Memorial Gardens")

Dan Cleary's work is influenced by other Chicago poets, both young and old. In the tradition of John Dickson, Cleary is the creator at poetry that is important to those of all ages.

I still hear of a reading that you gave
At Pontiac Produce at which you wowed the crowd.
Weaving back and forth in that way you had,
You brought them to their feet without being loud.

(from "The Death of Frank Bonomo")

Cleary's magic is that he offers timeless gems that woo the heart, such as his poem "The Beauty Spot". These gems know their audience, often addressing a person ("Written on Shakespeare's Birthday") or an object ("The Green Dress") in a series of light-hearted odes that celebrate life:

And though at times working here was great
(In the larger mystery of the night) it would seem

(from "Goodbye to the County")

Though Cleary's rhymes don't offer much flexibility in how the poem can be read or in determining what the meaning of the poem is, this is the way Cleary would have it. We see the poem the way Cleary wants us to see it. Sometimes Cleary's rhymes act as links to larger metaphors:

My darling, my love, my sweet chickadee
Whatever you do don't be angry at me

(from "To an American Wife")

At other times the rhymes stand up for themselves in defense of an often rejected style of poetry:

The wind that courses round the world
Was not less still than I,
The floating of a thistledown,
The breeze that passes by.

(from "The Lure of Distant Lands")

Cleary is not afraid to admit that rhyming poetry is often made fun of, and he hams it up here and there, having fun with the limitations and believing in the virtue of the rhyme:

All the things you stood against
Of which you dislike was intense
Would seem to be on the increase
And needing ever more police.

(from the title poem)

Can you see the cowboy?At their best, the lines in these poems are composed of near rhymes:

Quick, as they say, the weaver's shuttle,
time passes, nor will stay a bit
Its steady progress, plain and simple
to the frail majesty of death

(from "Memento Mori")

What makes Cleary one of the all time great rhyming poets, is that he never fails to coax our mind's eye to pan gracefully around or even to pull back a thousand miles:

While up between the pavement cracks
Grow grass and weed galore;
In sheer profusion growing wild
Up to the very door.

(from "Gloria's Bridal Shop")


White clouds sailing by my window
As if upon some quest,
An odyssey around the world,
Full of sweet unrest.

(from "Clouds")

Elegy For James Gerard is a book of Chicago poetry that will survive the ages. It is truly an important documentation of a master at the height of his craft.

--C. J. Laity

For more information, check out Fractal Edge Press.

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**We hope you found the information on this page useful. needs your help. We are holding a fundraising drive in order to stay online. There are two ways that you can help:
Click here to offer a financial gift or click here to order the new book by Press.

Note: Here is a review of Dan Cleary's "Elegy For James Gerard and Other Poems for the Larger Voice".

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