15 February 2013

“eye on the prize”: a closer look at … christopher deweese’s “maneuvers”

Maneuvers by Christopher DeWeese
(Blue Hour Press, 2012)
This week’s “Eye on the Prize” feature takes a close look at the “slippers” of a chapbook—that is, a chapbook’s closing piece. We will take a look at the closing poem in Maneuvers, a 36-page chapbook by Christopher DeWeese, and how that poem works as a finale. From here on out posts will get a little shorter as the focus turns to keeping our eyes on our own work.


Before we focus in on the last poem in DeWeese’s chapbook, let’s look at the story—the narrative thread—that drives this particular collection. The summary of Maneuvers (retrieved from Goodreads) shares this regarding what this collection is about:
Reading like a dead war correspondent’s gonzo journalism, the poems of Christopher DeWeese’s Maneuvers relay every uncanny detail of the wasted landscape, and acknowledge that absurdity becomes the only appropriate response to carnage. Each poem, the collected debris of rallies and bomb runs and campsites, give purpose to the poet that claims: ‘Inside me, there is all this dust I want to have a reason for.’
From the very first poem the reader is inserted into a war-plagued and war-reminiscent world. We read from the perspective and memory of a soldier, of soldiers, of men remembering other lost souls, etc. We are pretty much pushed into this world … The first poem begins, “I have no war to talk myself into,” and proceeds to carry us forward into DeWeese’s poetic world of war from that point on. We begin in medias res … in the midst of whatever war has been waged, is waging, will be waged.

“the deserters”

The final poem in DeWeese’s chapbook is titled “The Deserters.” We could spend as much time analyzing the significance of that title choice for a chapbook of war’s ending as we could analyzing the poem itself. But what strikes me as particularly significant is the abrupt end it suggests. Just as we are placed into this poetic world in the midst of things, DeWeese smartly chooses to extract us from the world with just as much abruptness. No peace is declared. No white flags are waved or memorials held. Instead, suddenly, we are simply “done” with it.

If you look at the language, though, things aren’t quite as clean cut as being “done.” We began the chapbook with ghosts, and though the speaker of this closing poem may be a “deserter,” or speaking to “the deserters,” those ghosts still linger. We’re left with a sense that the poem may end, but not the war … not the haunting … not the memories of either.

the slippers

Next week we’ll look at how the final piece in a chapbook is just as—if not, in some ways, more—significant than the piece that begins a chapbook. For now, remember that the last piece in your chapbook is the “slipper.” It is the piece that

1. brings the chapbook’s narrative to a satisfying conclusion;
2. invites further thought, discussion, or action; and
3. brings about the chapbook’s “happily ever after” moment

If you’ve noticed, we’ve been working with something of a fairy tale theme here. One thing I must point out is that a “happily ever after” moment in a chapbook isn’t always going to be as pretty as Cinderella’s slipper getting slid onto her perfectly-sized foot. Sometimes that moment is more reminiscent of the original end of Cinderella: blinded and bloodied stepsisters. We’ll talk more about the distinct goals of a chapbook’s final piece next week.

For now, your mini task for the weekend is to start thinking about the piece you might use as your chapbook’s “slipper.” Read or browse through Maneuvers (available via a link below), and see how “The Deserters” works as a slipper-piece for DeWeese’s chapbook!

Have fun!


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