Friday, October 31, 2014

Analysis of "Sauget Dead Wagon" by Steve Davenport

Poem found here in the comment section of my previous post until Steve Davenport decides to delete it or not: "Sauget Dead Wagon" by Steve Davenport

If that wandering gritty mid-west Americana bard replies to this analysis with another poem, I'll try to contain myself from posting my analysis of that poem the next day -- I'd still analyze the crap out of it though in my own personal time and post it at a later time and date.

However, Steve Davenport's reply to my previous analysis of his poem hit a couple of weak spots of mine.  1) My MFA thesis is titled "Tourist in the Red Light District" which has similar themes and ideas that continue to interest me and 2) I'm pretty sure a good portion of my blog covers formal poetry from around the world: ghazals, sonnets, ballads, rhymed quatrains or couplets, terza rima, haiku, tankas.  So this poem, a hard rhymed villanelle with a lack of punctuation, it's too difficult for me to resist.  And, yes, I know that Steve Davenport has a well written sestina as well, but I can only analyze so much and post.

So the haze that I wrote about in my last analysis continues with this poem due to the lack of punctuation adding a sense of speed to the language, but a slow down of thought (where should a line end) and with the added information that this is about a very specifc place -- the "rough end of Illinois with hookers, poverty and gangs" that my coworker from Illinois told me (paraphrased) there's the added slow down of trying to figure how the poem relates to place.  There's a bit of disconnect with the form and the subject already through the form.

But the refrain lines for this villanelle "Down to Sauget and all that hell" and "Carrying things from fall to fell" are used, language and semantics wise, to the tee.  But what stands out in the first stanza is the line, "The bodies come the bodies go" which devalues the body as an object and, for me, the actions are consistent, it's what's belittled and devalued that has my focus.

"To ashes ashes ring the bell / Dead wagon going coming slow / Down the Sauget and all that hell"  Note the repetition of ashes in the first line and the hard rhyme scheme forces a simplicity onto the a difficult subject as though to be like a nursery rhyme or a drinking song (what's the difference really) and the adjective verb of "Dead wagon" coming off humorously because of the rhyme and the simplicity.  It's as though the speaker belittles the experience, but there's something off with the next stanza.

"Yellow grease bone chips a smell / A body never wants to know / Carrying things from fall to fell"  The list of descriptors in the first line creates a very vivid smell image which goes against the sort of "play" in the previous stanzas; furthermore, there's a sense of gravity with "A body never wants to know"  -- this is more of a projected line than a personal line to me, the speaker relating experience rather than the reader observing the speaker's experience.

This sense of projection continues with, "Who cares what doesn't render well / Until the wind begins to blow / Down to Sauget and all that hell"  Past me wrote "prophetic rhetorical question"  Or rather, there is a sense of frustration from the speaker about the rhetoric and style the poem is in -- the little nouns and actions always continues always the reference to the Dead wagon which comes to sell and pick up dead bodies high and low -- and always carrying things from fall to fell" the present (fall) to the past (fell).

Now I somewhat kid with the phrase "wandering gritty mid-west Americana bard" as something endearing, but, when it comes down to it, the speaker solidifies himelf as a bard with the very sharp line of, "I say fuck this villanelle"

Bards write poems for the people about the people  -- just straight up -- Whitman, the American Bard, writes about peoples experience, but also places himself as the savior, chronicaller, voice of the people.  This speaker, by denouncing the form rather than the experience, is going back to the people and so the final lines of the poem resonate as a call to action, "That can't stop what's got to go / Down to Sauget and all that hell / Carrying things from fall to fell."  The speaker appears to attack "what's got to go" -- something to break this cycle.


  1. Hey, Darrell, thanks for all you do. A poem has two lives, it seems to me. One as a poem standing naked alone. One as poem clothed in the sequence a book can bring. Of course, there are also the various lives a poem lives in the minds of differently prepared and minded readers. All writers have to live with that. Hey to your co-worker. One day we'll meet and I'll tell you thanks in person.

    1. Dear Steve, with your work I've analyzed and all the work I've analyzed they resonate with one life and intrigue me to see the multiple lives they lead. My analysis is already obsolete once I put it up and so I go back to see more.

      It's my pleasure doing these analyses and I look forward to meeting you one day and discussing poetry and giving you my thanks.