Review of Dalton Day’s Weather Or Not
The cover art for Dalton Day’s newest chapbook through Maudlin House has a family of three on a beach arranged in order of height (tallest rightmost, shortest leftmost) on the left of the cover, and the rest of the beachfront continuing to their right.
This cover explains some of the concerns of the Weather Or Not, but, in the context of Day’s oeuvre, is more so just indicative of the largest problem of Day’s style: it is isolationist while preaching togetherness. This typically isn’t bad when he’s being honest about it, like in his best collections up to this point (Actual Cloud, Tandem, Fake Knife), but when the style gets mired in its own seeming revelations the moving parts wisp away with the wind (interglacials, Alternatives, the others).
Part of what was annoying about interglacials, the king of the “revelatory” collections, was that he narrates the reader having these experiences, which has always been part of his style: look at this experience, you are having it, isn’t it wonderful? The problem with this is that it is an extreme gamble when you’re putting together a body of collections; it works only half the time and the other half it becomes tiresome.
Weather Or Not is an amazing step forward because it shows that Day doesn’t need fragmented structure to get his ideas across and can speak plainly but honestly. The reason this collection works is because, for once, he is letting us know he is telling us our own experience while reading his own work. There’s no subterfuge.
Usually, Day’s turns have traded imagination for cheap imagery and reversals of fortune or focus, and it is this style that has gotten beaten into our collective poetic consciousness, like a carpenter working with bad wood and throwing his creations at people anyway. I get that his writing is experimental, but most good experimental poets (consistently good) are more honest about their intentions and execution than Day is.
Weather Or Not is an improvement because it reassures the reader that, without a fragmented structure, Day can write good poems. This chap benefits from short poem-paragraphs, like syntactically formal versions of his previous good poetry, like somebody stepped on top of his signature long, snakelike, and short-lined poems. The format works wonders here, especially when compared to Day’s other experiment with the paragraph-poem form in interglacials, where the block poems were usually unnecessarily long and didn’t provide enough substantial turns to justify the length.
In interglacials, the sentences are structured the same, and the intended effect is empathy. In Weather Or Not, the sentences are structured mostly the same, and the intended effect is dissociation (cf the subtitle). The latter succeeds while the former fails because empathy is not predicated on just similarity; it’s predicated on a combination of similarity and difference.
The primary example of this is the fourth poem in the collection:
Taking a picture of a spider-web proves difficult. It looks
invisible in every picture, which sounds like an oxymoron,
though you’re not entirely sure about that. When you give
up on the picture, you look up the weather forecast. You
doubt its accuracy.
The first two sentences show a pretty typical (or, if feeling generous, classic) Day turn, but the last two sentences are, for me, indicative of the chap’s mission as a whole – a mission statement that not only pretty explicitly says what’s wrong with Day’s bad poetry, but also reveals the qualities that save Day from mediocrity. Day is, for once, showing the light of his poetic style – in that the speaker gives up on the hope of achieving an accurate image, then looks up the weather (another projection) just so that they can give up on that as well by again doubting the accuracy of the picture on the screen. Day always doubts once. (This is the sycophantic litany of turns we’ve become accustomed to.) But the dual doubting means Day is finally being truthful. I’m not saying two doubts cancel each other out and especially not saying that two doubts make a belief, but I am saying that two doubts lead to better poetry than one doubt expressed over and over again.
I’ll end with an analogy: Dalton Day is Drake. He uses stripped down and simple language to maximize emotional reaction while often sacrificing depth. The same recognizable turns are taken, and the same themes are worked with in slightly different iterations. The simplicity of the word choice, the similarity of the topics, and the everyman status of the speaker collide to create an occasionally successful and emotionally effective hybrid form of poetry. Because of Weather Or Not, I have hope that Day is done staring at his own navel all the time and half the time pretending it’s another person. It’s good not being together, and it’s starting to look like Day is beginning to be okay expressing just that. Weather or not we’re comfortable with that is up to us.
Blake Wallin is the author of the chapbooks Otherwise Jesus (Ghost City Press, 2015) and No Sign on the Island (Bottlecap Press, 2016) as well as the microchap The Lucidity of Giving Up (Ghost City Press, 2016).