The opening poem of David Sanders’ latest collection, “Bread of the Moment,” suggests ways to look deeply at what meets the eye. “Watching a train go by behind/ the barren trees, you thought it wasn’t enough/ to simply see it pass / you ought to know what’s on board.” The poem considers those implications: “You looked at the cars for evidence, cattle? chemical? something else . . . . The speed, also, was a clue. . . .” The title itself resists superficial glimpses, as the poet suggests questions to ask, where to cast a gaze as the train passes. “Let’s say your guess was right. . . . How would you adjust your view?”
“Bread of the Moment” draws inspiration from what is at hand. Athenians have seen trains pass, fallen trees glow with an almost fluorescent “orange fungus / inching up their trunks like embers.” Poems mention local events, a tumbling boulder, narrowly missing apartments, or pianist Richard Syracuse, struck by a car and killed after a performance. These events are touchstones; as subjects, they provide a moment that encounters mortality. Thinking about how sudden Syracuse’s death was, Sanders writes, “Every time/ Is the last time. That’s what the world keeps teaching.”
Poet David Sanders is an Athens resident, a founding editor of “Poetry News in Review,” and the general editor of the prestigious Hollis Summers Prize for poetry. “Bread of the Moment” (Swallow Press, 2021) is Sanders’ second poetry collection.
“I remembered a conversation I heard from a baker who talked about how bread begins to get old in a matter of minutes,” he told WOUB’s Emily Votaw in December. “Over the course of a day, it becomes less and less what it was. These poems are often about memory and the past and how things are overlapped in terms of time. So I thought to that extent, the title ‘Bread of the Moment’ seemed fitting.”
That trope fits. The poetry explores “Bread” at a “Moment,” including even dissonance and displacement. “Matinee” mentions the disconnect of leaving a matinee to resume life in mid-day, the poet’s mind overtaken by a cinematic impulse: “To stumble into the glare of an afternoon: /that’s what’s chilling. . . . You’ve bought into a temperament/ and, blinking, carry it. . . .” The poet doesn’t resist, stepping back in time, beginning with the lyrical and balanced line, “Spring days in Philly, I stalked the old city. . . . the soundtrack / rumbling as from the El train or a dream.” Framed cinematically, the poem presents an urban montage, like a Linklater film, the gaze focusing on a pedestrian, then that person leaving the viewfinder, then another entering. “Whose story is this? Whose do you choose?” Sanders wonders. The poem concludes reflexively, tourists photograph the whole scene, likely capturing the poet who has captured them.
A different look at a street scene is taken in “Waiting to Happen.” This title focuses on spatial disorientation, the “doubling” effect when a pedestrian sees multiple reflections of himself, other pedestrians, even traffic in multiple plate glass windows. The tone is anxiously kaleidoscopic. Oversaturation of visual stimulation, too many distractions, can upend anyone: “if the city demands / too much of you / it pays to pay attention. . . you can be yanked/ out of your shoes.” There are echoes of the story of Syracuse here, even though this poem has a lighter touch.
The poem “Self-Portrait as a Fly on the Wall of Modern History” relies on humor and irony, as well as contrast between great and small. It presents three short stanzas with titles: Liverpool, 1960 (songwriters John Lennon and Paul McCartney teaming up); Washington, DC, 1972 (Watergate break-in); and Boston, 2001 (Logan Airport, 911 hijackers boarding jets to crash into the Twin Towers). Collectively, the poem gathers tension as it moves forward in time. Here is the central stanza (note “the fly” is speaking):
The tapping of phones done under crossed cones
of flashlights and the attendant rifling
of files would again have all been lost on me.
The flexing of wings in preparation – one,
now the other – always takes precedence.
Though depicted quickly, each event carries collective memory and cultural weight. Stating what a fly sees (and thinks) shifts perspective and removes sentimentality. Sanders told Votaw that he, Chris Pyle, and Bill Rawlings were listening to a Beatles podcast, wondering what it would be like to be a fly on the wall. Sanders said, “I would be a fly, you know? I would be thinking about fly things!”
Humor again blends with irony in “Dear Vulture,” where Sanders confronts his own mortality. Using direct address, the poet tells the scavenger, “I’m not going anywhere soon.” He adds, “. . . your serious silly head red and rubbery / like alien genitalia . . . Don’t wait for me. . . . Dry your wings if you want, like some farcical symbol / of mock authority, but don’t think / hanging around will win you first dibs on me.” The similes here are so rich that they strengthen the poet’s argument.
Sanders told Emily Votaw that poetry contains “spatial” aspects, “temporal” aspects, and rhythmic or musical aspects. “So there are a lot of these elements working simultaneously that make a poem move from the spatial to the temporal — which is one of the pleasures.”
David Sanders will join poets Tim Green and Savannah Stipple) for Spoken and Heard at 7 p.m. Feb. 17 at Stuart’s Opera House. Register in advance to enjoy the reading online. “Bread of the Moment” is available by order through Little Professor in Athens or the book’s website at Swallow Press.
Athens resident Bonnie Proudfoot has had fiction and poetry published in multiple literary journals. Her first novel, “Goshen Road,” (Ohio University’s Swallow Press, 2020) was a Women’s National Book Association Great Group Reads selection for 2020 and was long-listed for the 2021 PEN/Hemingway award for debut fiction.