Dean Rader

Winner of the George Bogin Memorial Award in 2015

AMERICAN SELF-PORTRAIT

 

Dear LeAnne,

This is the day when Oklahoma gives everything back. They're returning the rotunda, the Myriad Gardens and both Cherokee Trading Posts. They're giving back the oil wells and Sooner Stadium, the Cowboy Hall of fame, Cattlemen's steak house, Oaktree golf course, and Falls Creek. They're returning Jim Inhoffe, Mary Fallon, and Frank Keating, returning the National Lighter Museum and Oral Roberts University, giving back Lil' Red, Garth Brooks, and Reba McEntire, giving back the interstates and the shopping malls, the windmills, the livestock farms, the aggies, the rifles, the Murrah Building, the fracking, Tinker Air Force Base, and the Republicans. They're giving it all back: the red dirt, the blistered sky, the bent-back trees, the stars in their caves of bones, and the bones and the ropes and the guns and the hoods and the plows. They're returning Indian City USA, Enterprise City, Phillips 66, Loves Convenient Stores, Frontier City, and White Water. They're returning all the dust, giving back 1907, 1936, and the entire decade of the 1880s, they're revoking the Dawes Act, the Homestead Act, the Oklahoma Organic Act. They're returning all the chicken fried steak, the Ford 150s, the 3.2 beer, the cherry limeades, and yes, even the mullets. They're giving back all of the perch and the crappie, the brown bears and the deer, they're giving back mountains and chicken hawks, ground squirrels, bison, and raccoons, lakes, and buffalo grass, summer blast and black ice. Trucks, schooners, hoes, hatchets, dugouts, dirt devils, scarves, parcels, acres, all of it, everything LeAnne, everything, even textbooks and statues, bridges and buildings, drive-ins and movie screens, Broadway songs, airports, fried-onion hamburgers, footballs, bombs, the EG-3 aircraft, all the headstones and all the dams, and they're giving back the dead and the shovels we used to bury them, and they are giving back the dead and the bullets, and they are giving back the dead, and the blankets and they are giving back the dead, they are giving back the dead, they are giving back the dead, they are giving back the dead, they are giving back the dead.

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Stephen Burt on Dean Rader

These poems show a justified confidence in the shape of the sentence, the power of the line, as it molds and is molded, in turn, by what the poet says. And they have just as much confidence—rightly—in their vision of economic and racial injustice, of the inherited categories that may keep us down, or endanger our lives, or tell us what we can and cannot be, even as they shape what we become. To look at how race and income and geographic locale and employment intersect (at what we now call "intersectionality") is sometimes (as in "the summer/ of 1982") to tell a clear story about individuals whose motivations and limits unfold. Sometimes it is to interpret a photograph, making it new in end-stopped stanzas whose calm facts (about metallic silver, about triangles) trope good reasons for rage. At other times this poet's sense of injustice prompts rants, and requires rejections of realist form-- to show what we do to the abjects of our society, journalists won't suffice: we need dear Mr Bosch.  We need the history of many kinds of poetry, including the kind that tells stories and the several kinds pioneered by Langston Hughes (whose America hasn't been America yet). We need a poetry that can present both the attractiveness, and the sad ridiculousness, of the future in "American Self-Portrait," where the takers, the killers, the colonizers of Oklahoma—or Maryland or Massachusetts—reverse history and give everything back. If that's not possible, then what is possible, for Norman, Oklahoma; for Peter Norman; for "us"? We don't know. But this poet can help us find out.

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