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Wayne State University Press

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Poems by Jim Daniels

Poetry, Michigan, Detroit

Made in Michigan Writers Series

Published: August 2021
ISBN: 9780814348789
Pages: 96 Size: 6x9
Published: August 2021
ISBN: 9780814348796

The poems in Gun/Shy deal with the emotional weight of making do. Tinged with both the regrets and wisdom of aging, Jim Daniels’s poems measure the wages of love in a changing world with its vanishing currency. He explores the effects of family work—putting children to bed, leading parents to their final resting places—and what is lost and gained in those exertions. Childhood and adolescence are examined, through both looking back on his own childhood and on that of his children. While his personal death count rises, Daniels reflects on his own mortality. He finds solace in small miracles—his mother stretching the budget to feed five children with "hamburger surprise" and potato skins, his children collecting stones and crabapples as if they were gold coins.

Daniels, as he always has, carries the anchor of Detroit with him, the weight both a comfort and a burden. He explores race, white privilege, and factory work. Eight Mile Road, a fraught border, pulses with division, and the echoes of music, singing through Detroit’s soiled but solid heart, resonate in these poems. His first long poem in many years, "Gun/Shy," centers the book. Through the personas of several characters, Daniels dives into America’s gun culture and the violent gulf between the fearful and the feared.

Throughout, he seeks connection in likely and unlikely places: a river rising after spring rain and searchlights crossing the night sky. Comets and cloudy skies. Cement ponds and the Garden of Eden. Adolescence and death. Wounds physical and psychic. Disguises and more disguises. These are the myths we memorize to help us sleep at night, those that keep us awake and trembling. Daniels’s accessible language, subtlety, and deftness make this collection one that belongs on every poetry reader’s shelf.

A native of Detroit, Jim Daniels currently lives in Pittsburgh and is the Thomas S. Baker University Professor Emeritus at Carnegie Mellon. His recent books include Rowing Inland (Wayne State University Press, 2017) and The Perp Walk. He also coedited the anthology RESPECT: The Poetry of Detroit Music.

Jim Daniels is one of our best chroniclers of an American past that is, for better and worse, gone. As such, his is a poetry that laments and celebrates our present moment—its people, the lives they live, the ideas they live by, and the places, people, and things they call theirs. When one of his speakers says, ‘Today, / I’m just watching. Carried away,’ you realize a pact has been made (between the speaker and world) and a promise fulfilled (by the poet for the reader): that these poems will carry you away, that the voice behind them ‘wants to kneel on the floor / and whisper a prayer / like in the old days.’ Now more than ever, we need those prayers, and these poems.

– Hayan Charara, author of Something Sinister

In this new collection by one of our country’s best poets, Daniels brings us the news from this world and transforms it into the news from beyond this world. These are poems of time and place, written in familiar voices, suggesting narratives that could be our own, but he’s infused each line, each poem, with mystery and music. These are poems that escape their form, and remake themselves in the reader’s mind—in our moment and in our memory. This is poetry that inspires and terrifies. These lines are poignant, unforgettable, resonant, but somehow remain conversational, as if this poet is simply tossing off brilliance with each new observation, each sharp image. This is the strongest collection yet from one of our most important poets.

– Laura Kasischke, author of The Time Machine

Daniels’ Gun/Shy is a journey. It is not just a book of poems, but a long journey from his childhood home of Warren and Detroit to adulthood, where somewhere along this long journey, the city evolved even as the author or we all evolved. There is something profound about Jim Daniels’ ability to humble us through poetry that is self-effacing at a moment in history where we most need to step away from ourselves in order to know the larger world outside of us. These powerful poems will make you laugh, wonder, pause, but long after you have laid the book down, deep inside your heart, they will reveal something profound about the way we all become survivors. This is an urgently necessary book coming to us at such a time.

– Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, author of Praise Song for My Children: New and Selected Poems

Jim Daniels’ poetry explores not only the realities of a blue-collar, late twentieth-century, upper Midwest childhood, but the entirety of America’s sociocultural whirlwind throughout these last six decades. Few writers believe more deeply in poetry’s capacity to document the world, and documentation, in his hands, is a form of homage. Sure, Gun/Shy is a new chapter in Daniels’ grand, literary-historical project—more importantly, it is an essential collection from one of our contemporary masters.

– Campbell McGrath, Philip and Patricia Frost Professor of Creative Writing, Distinguished University Professor of English, Florida International University