comment 0

Book Notes: SAY POEM by Adam Robinson

Here we are in Baltimore. The party ended, improbably, for me with everyone singing “The Rainbow Connection.” Megan McShea played it on guitar. I was drunk, Joe Y was drunk and would have been dancing if it were the kind of song you could dance to. Everyone was good or pretty ok at singing.

Earlier in the party, I could see Cheryl’s teeth because she was laughing, talking to Stephanie in the corner of the room with the little plywood bar they called Tiger’s bar (short i in Tiger’s).  There was an Oriole’s game on a small television opposite them. This made Tiger’s a sports bar, according to Adam, who spent a lot of time talking to two friends I had invited that didn’t know anybody but me. This was kind of him, especially given that this was 2 parts birthday party for Adam and Mike Y and one part a going away party for me & Cheryl so there wasn’t much reason for Adam to run into these two again. Yesterday was his birthday and it doesn’t seem like he is ever bothered by strangers when sometimes I am disinterested in them. I also didn’t bring any beer because I knew a lot of other people were going to bring beer and I am a helpless cheapskate. It should be noted that I think I also provoked Stephanie’s ire in that she disapproved of the fact that I hadn’t invited any women to a reading I had organized in Richmond. This is why I like Stephanie. I guess I did blow it.


Anyway, “Say Poem” (in Say Poem) is a script to a reading with the banter, pauses, asides, and awkward gestures written in. It foregrounds itself as a made and delivered thing and this foregrounding is done in the least pretentious, most disarming way possible. It’s a party.


“Say, Thank you—

Thank you—

Then say,

I’m not reading a single line

until I know how much

this is going to get me.


Or, well, that’s not true,

but it’s meaningful. I mean:

I have certain concerns about

fiscal returns and the ones

that don’t come back.


Monday I was tired.

Tuesday I went to the airport.

Wednesday, Stephanie found

some crack in the street.

Thursday was cooool.”


It would be short changing a lot of people to say Adam makes poetry in Baltimore go, but for me he certainly made Baltimore not a place I was for a little between places but a somewhere I wished I could stay. (There’s something about Baltimore that feels like a choice. You could be in DC or Philly or NYC. It’d be easier to find an ok job. It’s not a Midwestern city, the default only game in town).


“Another poem that I’m fond of

which prioritizes sound and vowels

is DEUS ADERIT which, I think, is

Latin for “God is there.” The poem



What are my friends doing

in the American Midwest—O

yes they were born there

and make a clean living of it.


There among the great flat fields,

where they bury short

stories in thick soil, they

pluck banjo songs from the acoustic sky.

…and little deer to shoot, to skin, to

freeze the meat, unpack it for the pan. Then shovel

something in our American snowy



There they were plopped in states with heavily

voweled names like Ohio, Illinois,

Iowa, and there they shall endure.


So, okay. Say, Thank you.

Say, Wait, I’ve got a few more….


A lot of books of poetry apologize for what they are or obfuscate the fact that they are poetry with creative genre titles. It’s hard to find books of poems in love with poetry. It might be strange to say that this is a book of poems in love with poetry because it spends so much time making fun of the postures in which it is written and delivered. But to make fun of it and us is to love it and to ask it to be better, and for that reason this is an important book to track down from where ever it is and have on hand.


“I’ve been thinking about me nings lately

And how they ain’t like yr nings


Um. Make eye contact

with a few people in the room?”


There’s someone looking toward you hoping to be delighted. Or pee their pants laughing.

Anyway, Happy Belated Birthday Adam! All I got you was this cheap ass bunch of notes. Thanks for the book and Baltimore. Looking forward to the next.

Filed under: Book Notes

About the Author

Posted by

Joe Hall is the author of five books of poetry, including Someone's Utopia (2018) and Fugue & Strike (forthcoming). His poems, reviews, and scholarship have appeared in Poetry Daily, The Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day, Postcolonial Studies, Peach Mag,, PEN America Blog, Poetry Northwest, Ethel Zine, Gulf Coast, Best Buds! Collective, and Eighteenth-Century Fiction. He has taught poetry workshops for teachers, teens, and workers through Just Buffalo and the WNYCOSH Worker Center.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s