BORROWED COATS

Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel, Author . Hanging Loose $21 (112p) ISBN 978-1-882413-94-2 ISBN 1-882413-93-8

The voice of Tulare County past and present also belongs to California's poet laureate; McDaniel wears both hats—and coats—with dignity and straight talk. The author of 15 chapbooks and 10 full-length collections (the last four for the Brooklyn-based collective Hanging Loose), the German-Irish-Cherokee descended McDaniel was raised in a family of depression-era sharecroppers, and spent her working life in vineyards and small towns. From "My Landlady Brings Me an Easter Gift" ("fleshiest blossoms/ that ever grew/ in Kmart's garden") to "Breadstuff" ("I have never liked bagels/ even from Foxxy's in Las Vegas," McDaniel's preferences, recollections and musings form a wry, coherent worldview over the course of these 90-plus, page-or-so poems. Many of the short stanzas make wonderful near-haiku: "Twenty-one trees/ the lawyers planted/ on Volunteer Saturday" or "I just long to be/ in their scruffy company again// even if they have tidied up their acts/ become boring little saints," while understated, unexpected images appear in the cart as if by magic: "Their indulgences are piling up/ and some day/ will reach heaven—/ a special corner/ smelling of Grade A milk." The titles alone are worth the price of admission; "I Would Like to Shoot the Quack," "Forty-Five-Year-Old Man on Total Disability" and "Perfume Hound" are just a few of the acquaintances readers should willingly make. (May 15)

Forecast: The combination of West Coast laureatehood and a solidly distributed East Coast publisher should get this book review attention. Fans of Virginia Hamilton Adair, Ruth Stone or Martha Zweig should check out McDaniel, whose work is grittier and more deadpan than any of them.

Reviewed on: 05/14/2001
Release date: 01/01/2001
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