Why Poetry? #6 with Don Winter
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Why Poetry? #6 with Don Winter

Even The Dead Are Growing Old

 Rebecca Schumejda
 Rebecca Schumejda
Why Poetry? #6 with Don Winter
by Rebecca Schumejda  FollowFollow
Rebecca Schumejda is now on the pickle diet, so she can fit into her skinny jeans sometime in the next millennium. www.rebeccaschumejda.com
Why Poetry? #6 with Don Winter
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Even The Dead Are Growing Old, by Don Winter, Working Stiff Press, 2012, is available at: The author's site New York Quarterly or contact: dansheridanwsp@yahoo.com Even The Dead Are Growing Old, but thankfully Don Winter has returned to the small press. After the publication of Saturday Night Desperate, a few years back, there were rumors that Don Winter was “off to discover a new path,” which made me feel like someone literally dropped a hammer off a roof onto my head. Maybe it is because my father was a roofer and when I read “Roofing,” I felt like homage was being paid to deserving hard working men who aren't spotlighted in literary work nearly as much as they should be. Whatever it was, I fell in love with Don's work and in November when I heard from Steve Henn, who helped co-edit Fight These Bastards and Platonic 3 Way Press with him, that he had a new collection coming out I was ecstatic.
When I asked Don about how Saturday Night Desperate was going to be his last book, he said, “By 2008 the whole thing had turned into this grinding, lifeless machine: the writing of poems, the editing of Fight These Bastards, the writing of reviews. I needed to stop all that. In the years since I've worked on a few poems, like someone might work on crossword puzzles, I guess. I wanted to share some of those with Fred Voss, with David Thompson, with Mr Locklin, and with others I'd known, and so I went to Dan and he was amenable to publishing Even the Dead...” (Dan being Dan Sheridan from Working Stiff Press)
Winter says crossword puzzles, I say these pieces are more complex a little more like Soduko. His poem, “No Visitation,” demonstrates his respect for “the art form of brevity,” in seven, stark, lines.
The train twists through Michigan: the yellow blur of farmhouses, ribbon glimpse of rivers. All night I keep arriving in someone else's childhood. And once a year you send a postcard of his happiness.
Winter captures the nauseating movement of loss as well as the struggle to arrive at a resolution that doesn't exist. The limited communication is even more dismal when it arrives on a commercially printed card with space on one side for an address, a postage stamp, and a brief message. What is unsaid is much more powerful than what is said in this piece. I am not exactly sure what it means to spend the night, “arriving in someone else's childhood,” but this line has been with me for weeks now. Is Winter referring to an insomniatic night where the distance between the narrator and his son is twisting his thoughts and blurring his realities? Is the minimal communication, that is suppose to placate him, actually the catalyst for the pain? Am I reading into this too much, maybe yes, maybe no. Either which way, I believe the terseness in some of his pieces are thought provoking. This is also the case in another piece “My Aunt Bids the World Adieu,” where the body of the poem is only three words longer than the title and is actually a revealing quote.

My favorite pieces in the collection, “Breaking Down,” which also appeared in Saturday Night Desperate, juxtaposes a car and a relationship, both in the process of breaking down. In five short stanzas, Winter places the reader inside the car and the relationship, showing us how fleeting moments really are.
Night we split up, she held my erection & looked out the window like someone with a hand on a doorknob stopping to say one last thing before goodbye.
Winter's ability to interchange character's actions and their words creates a chilling effect. In addition, the descriptions of the car itself, “to open the door/you had to pound/just below the handle,” seems to provide subtle hints about the relationship between Vera and the narrator, maybe merely explaining how lack of communication caused the demise.
While Don's work could be simply labeled as working class poetry, there is much more here. In “Press of the Real: Poetry of the working class,” Don says, There is, and has been, the resistance of the “academic” literary canon to “those below,” certainly those of the working class. I believe that the resistance arises out of a failure to appreciate, or react against, the class content of poetry. That there isn't a clearer concept of the “working class” is a big issue. Why can't I justify my working class poems in the “academic” environment?” Winter is a poet that proves that working class poetry deserves a place in academia.
Maybe writers like Winter and others that come into education from a different perspective will help to tear down the wall that often separates academic and non-academic poetry. When I asked him what it was like going back to school later in life and choosing teaching as a second career, he said, “Perhaps because of my working class background, I believe it best for a teacher, as my mentor Linda McCarriston says,to take her place as a "townie" voice among the "gownie" teaching establishment, to offer students a lively, earned, and savvy alternative to the modes that always seem to dominate. For example, the experience of learning from a working writer and former businessperson is one "townie" advantage students receive from my teaching. To see the practical made visible is to impress upon students that their efforts do have a future, and these efforts pay dividends in the world outside academia. I was honored to win Ivy Tech Community College's 2012-13 Excellence in Instruction Award for our region, and I receive many supportive emails from my students, such as this one:
"I just wanted to fill you in on where I stand as a student. When I first started at Ivy Tech I rushed through a lot of work. I thought I knew it all. When I took the Compass Test and got 03 in writing I didn’t care because I didn’t want to do it. After having you as a teacher in the summer I noticed I was becoming more active in the class room, doing my homework and turning it in on time. Not missing a day of class. I was proud of myself. You inspired me to do this. After I left out of your class room and learned so much from you I retook my compass test in writing. I passed it with a 72. I am now in English 093, just having been at 03 and gone to 72. You never gave up on me. THANK YOU. Hayley Gard. Please feel free to share this with your next set of students. Oh and you should teach English 093.”
Winter is currently a teacher at Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, but often writes about the Michigan of his childhood. He was born in Niles and returned there in 2006, leaving Anchorage, Alaska, to help care for his terminally ill father and then stayed on care for both of his parents until they passed away. Winter also lived in Alabama and Indiana. Setting is pivotal to many of Winter's pieces as shown not only in “Hearing the Landscape Tell the Story,” but in the attention to detail that he incorporates into many of his pieces. In “As Time Goes By,” where he seats you in the rig beside a trucker.
Having come to what he's come to in middle age, some trucker will leave the speaker to dangle as his foot floors his stripped-out ford, the V-8 squalls under the jumping hood
The setting, in reference to both physical and emotional, gives a deeper perspective on the characters. The speaker seems to speak of the man himself dangling in the position he is on. The woman in the last poem, “Even the Dead are Growing Old,” also seems to be dangling metaphorically in a perilous relationship. The narrator, “can see/by her eyes she won't let him go,” and does not tell her about how he knew about another woman the man had been with who, “used Maybelline greens foundation, grape lipstick—/nothing hid the welts, things he done to her.” I believe it is Winter's objective narration that is, for me, the most appealing attribute as a writer. In addition, his ability to transform a moment with a jazzy phrase like “The goddamn of music” in “Strip Bar: Hamtramck” and “weather decides what to keep,/what to throw out.” the last stanza of “Cold Fact.”
I have to admit that I am glad that Winter's path took him back into the poem. Currently, Winter is working on a new collection, tentatively called Waiting to Punch the Clock, which Dan Sheridan at Working Stiff Press anticipates publishing. You can purchase Don's work through the NYQ site: http://www.nyqpoets.net/poet/donwinter or on his site: http://www.donwinterpoetrybooksonline.com/ where you can access free downloads! I also highly recommend reading the essay he wrote, “press of the real: poetry of the working class,” which is quoted in this interview/review.
Even The Dead Are Growing Old, by Don Winter, Working Stiff Press, 2012, is available at: The author's site New York Quarterly or contact: dansheridanwsp@yahoo.com



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