HUMAN INTEREST STORIESMusic & Art

DAVID ATWOOD – The Voice that can be found on Radio and in Poetry

by Robert "Bob" Bussey

If you have ever heard a Louisiana Lottery commercial, then you have heard The “Voice.” That voice belonged to David Atwood, who has worked as a voice actor for many years, having worked at local radio stations in the past, and in other “voice” projects. But David also applies his “voice” to one of the oldest art forms around: poetry. If you can think of poetry as the “voice” of the poet, you will quickly understand that poetry is composed of thousands of voices, all calling into the wilderness to be heard and understood. David is one of those voices. His voice has been heard in the poetry world many times.

Recently, David had one of his poems nominated for the Pushcart Poetry award. I know, what the heck is the Pushcart Poetry award? Good question. The short answer is that the Pushcart Prize is an American literary prize published by Pushcart Press that honors the best “poetry, short fiction, essays or literary whatnot” published by small presses over the previous year.

Magazine and small book press editors are invited to submit up to six works they have featured. Just to be chosen by an editor
is quite the achievement. It is estimated that there are some 3,500 active literary journals that would fit the “small press” definition in the United States. If each of them submits 6 poems, that would be 21,000 poems that the judges have to go through to decide on the winners. A daunting task, to say the least.

Once the winners are selected by a panel of judges the Pushcart Press puts the poems, essays and other literary works into an anthology each year. Remember, these are from small press companies, not your giants. This is a way for “emerging” artists to
be recognized. The Pushcart Press is devoted to writers, small presses and non-commercial publishing. To help you visualize that they are all about the “small press” their office is an 8’X8’ backyard shack on Long Island, New York. And, yet, they have become one of the most influential publishers in the nation. David’s nomination was entitled “Things Mom’s Say.” So, let’s take a look at this poem:

THINGS MOMS SAY by David Atwood (published in 2023 by MockingHeart Review)

My Mom said once, when the clouds parted
her Mother pointed to the sky and said, there
that’s just enough blue to sew a kitten a pair of pants.

Then my Mom said, she once watched her Mother
leave in a cab, her and her younger sisters left behind,
knowing she would not be coming back.

And my Mom said, that
is when she learned to sew.

One thing some poets are able to do is tell a story, and draw you into the story, with very few words. This poem does just that. It also, with easy to understand words (not some esoteric stuff that you find in indecipherable poetry), lets you glimpse into the whole emotional history of two generations of Moms. Plus, if you are like me, it lets you reminisce about your own grandmother and mother. Let’s go back to the third line: “…enough blue to sew a kitten a pair of pants.” Now we all know that cats are notorious for not conforming to anything we humans want them to do. Hence the phrase … its was like herding cats. But David’s use of the cat in reference to his grandmother, and his mom remembering the phrase is more of a testament to how determined his grandmother must have been. He is able with that one phrase to let you form a picture in your mind of what his grandmother was like, her basic personality. David likes to throw some humor into his poetry and does so with that line. You have to chuckle: a cat wearing a pair of pants??? And, yet, it goes beyond the humor, beyond the chuckle, and lets you see his grandmother and a bit of his mother in her remembering the phrase. And perhaps a bit of the poet, who put those words down on paper. So, in three short lines, you have two generations of women and the poet, David, all wrapped up and set forth for the reader to ponder. I wonder how many readers are now thinking back to their own grandmothers and mothers. David admitted to me that these lines and this poem are from real life events. He went through this. His grandmother really did say that. And his mom told him so. The first stanza is also about a happy time in the poet’s life. The clouds are clearing. There is blue in the sky. And then his grandmother comes out with this humorous phrase.

When you go to the second stanza of the poem, the “blue” is not happy. Instead, it is the “blues” as we all know them to be. Nothing happy here, but again dealing with two generations of mothers. So, we see a quick shift from happiness to sadness in just a few short lines. Yep, David’s mom did witness her own mom leaving, and leaving her and her sister behind. David does not explain why. Not does he have to. That is left up to the reader to fill in the blanks. But again, in three short lines we get a deep picture of the emotion that was tied up in that parting. Leaving his mom and three younger sisters behind must have been extremely hard on his grandmother and also on her young daughters. David did tell me that in later years his grandmother had returned and that many emotions were able to be mended. Nothing hard to understand here, and most likely, something many of us can relate to … the loss of a loved one. Being left behind. Losing someone for a great length of time or perhaps forever. But David does all of that in three short lines.

That leads us to the third line … his mom learning to sew. A coping behavior??? Probably. The few short lines let the reader see and feel how deeply David’s mom was affected by the leaving of his grandmother. Imagine, if you will, learning how to sew or knit at an early age (around 12 years of age) because you just need to keep your mind from something that had emotionally traumatized you. Imagine, if you will, all of a sudden being the oldest of four girls in a family with no mom to guide you.

I said at the beginning of discussing this poem, how some poets are able to tell a story that could easily have taken up hundreds of pages in just a few short stanzas. This is a classic example. David lets you into his life, the life of this grandmother, and the life of his mother, in three relatively short stanzas. But not only does he let you into the life events, he also lets you into the emotional events that were woven into those life events. The weaving of a tapestry of life and emotion. I can see why this poem was nominated for the Pushcart prize. It shines, it draws you in, it lets you reminisce about your own upbringing, lets you experience in vivid color the life and times of three people (and perhaps more) in just three stanzas. Stanzas that are simply packed with ideas, events, happiness, grief, and other emotions.

David likes to write about real life events. The next poem is no exception.

Fitting In – By David Atwood, 2021 (Published by The Raven Review)

I hear my bones. I hear them growing.
Joaquin the Spaniard said as he spread
too long for the beds in Basque, then
too large for the chaise longe of France.

Too tall for the doors of Europe
too colossal for the being he became.
Too high for a Queen who commanded he bare,
taller than all who paid for his display.

He grew forever closer to heaven
But never could grow beyond
the torture in the bends of his joints,
or the strain of the stretch of his spine.

Summers grew the Oak trunks broad
and tall along the Altzo Azpi valley
until his family tree wanted to see
if the Giant had outgrown his grave.

When they reached into earth
and dug up his bones
for the first time the world found
Joaquin fit perfectly in the ground.

We discussed this poem at length. Joaquin was a real person. And, yes, he really was a giant who traveled Europe in the 19th century meeting royalty like Queen Victoria. He did this to make a living from his gigantism. He was known as the Giant of Altzo and grew to be 7 feet 10 inches tall. He weighed some 470 pounds. And he was the subject of the award-winning film, Giant, that was released in 2017. Another film, Handia, was developed in Europe about Joaquin and tells the story of Joaquin and his brother, Martin, traveling around Europe to put Joaquin on display. And, yes, some grave robbers did try to dig up Joaquin’s
bones after he was buried in the Altzo Valley, but they found nothing since Joaquin’s relatives had moved the bones to a different location because they feared that grave robbers would try to steal his bones. David saw the movie and wrote the poem.

We discussed two more poems written by David, and those are set out at this time. I will let the reader delve into them without discussing what David had to say. But, let me say that again, each of these are from events that David either experienced or witnessed. See if you can relate them to something you have experienced or witnessed in your own life.

Frozen In Time By David Atwood, 2109 (Published by Aquila Review)

He turns the saltshaker
bottom to sky
to snow on scrambled eggs
and delay the first bite
because she’s slower
this winter.

Her red sweater meanders among the table maze –
with a trembling touch
for each reassuring chairback.
This time he has time
to sugar her coffee,
stirring clockwise the way
he has since Texarkana.

Their hours different now
than their hours then
when their purpose
was time saved –
their purpose now,
time spent.

Of Human Scale By David Atwood

If the Earth were a basketball
and a tennis ball the moon,
24 feet apart to be to scale,
in their tidal locked courting waltz
without corsage and boutonniere
or terrified teenage goodnight kiss.
But lost among the parsecs of infinity,
light years beyond mortal comprehension,
is the smallest moment of us,
slow dancing to the radio
in the galaxy of our kitchen.

I’ll give you a hint on this one. David and his wife, Christee, are the couple dancing in the kitchen.

David has published the following chapbooks filled with his style of poetry:
Find Your Way Home — 2011
Catfish Bones and Cajun Ghosts – 2015
Instamatic – 2022
You can find them all via Amazon at

https://www.amazon.com/stores/David-Atwood/author/B09R2GGL8W?ref=ap_rdr&isDramIntegrated=true&shoppingPortalEnabled=true

 

 

Robert Bussey is a local attorney and poet who has resided in CenLa since 1986. He interviews other poets and then writes these articles to help promote poetry. You can reach him at Rlbussey450@icloud.com if you are a poet and would like to be interviewed.

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