I prepared this review of Dave Etter’s final book shortly before his death. I’m posting it now as a tribute. As I’m sitting here re-reading this I’m grateful to Dave for his friendship, and honored to celebrate his life with this post. Thank you Dave.
I have been reading and collecting Dave Etter’s poetry books for forty years. I knew Dave personally and considered him both a friend and one of America’s greatest living poets. His influence on my life has been entirely positive. He was a man of letters, a jazzman, a prose stylist, a poet. None of those things do him justice because he was all of that and more. His latest book of poems, The Yellow House, is published by Red Dragonfly Press and available on Amazon. Dave was a Midwestern writer, an Illinois writer. He loved the cornfields and the small towns (he lived in a small town – Lanark, Illinois, population 1200) and the lonely whine of a freight train scuttling across the midnight prairie. You will find such things in each and every one of Dave’s books. The Yellow House confirms that Dave’s keen eye and creative abilities had not diminished. He was writing as a man in his eighties but that spark has never left him. Dave Etter was still looking at the world with a sense of wonder, sadness and joy, all co-mingling into these powerful, short poems. In a poem titled “Pencils” he writes: “Morning sun comes into the kitchen/like a sleepy lover looking for her shoes./But there is no lover, no warm body/that curls up nights next to mine.” The characters that populate Dave’s poems are cut from the cloth of the American experience. They are lonely, frustrated, odd, happy, thoughtful and wonderful all at the same time. Dave describes the sexual awakening of a young man with the line: “I was toting a taut bag of hot coins between my legs...” and he describes a flaxen-haired girl as having “cornflower blue eyes/hands quiet as sleeping birds.” Dave Etter’s poems are about the unique people that comprise our national landscape, in small towns across the nation. It is here in Etter’s often lonely world that you’ll learn how “The humid, sweat-soaked heat of a late-August day/quickens the beat of a tumbledown heart.” The Yellow House is a collection that reminds us how great poetry sounds when written by a master.