Deke Dangle Dive
by Gibson Fay-LeBlanc
CavanKerry Press, 2021
$16.56, Purchase at Bookshop.org
Review by Andrea Van Dinther
Editorial Note: This month, rather than a narrative review, we are “diving” into a book through the lens of a single poem that shows what drives a collection. We hope this approach, along with the brief interview with the writer that follows, compliments what the general description and blurbs can offer as a window into Deke Dangle Dive. In these reviews, our goal is to introduce readers to the voice, themes, and craft-based decisions a book presents, inviting readers to join a conversation begun by the poet.
CavanKerry Press writes of this, Gibson Fay-LeBlanc’s second book of poems:
Deke Dangle Dive explores illness, fatherhood, brotherhood, and masculinity through ice hockey, contemporary culture, domestic life, and the natural world and considers how poems can speak to us and through us when all seems (or is) lost.
In Deke Dangle Dive, the poem “Mother” stops a reader in her tracks. In so few lines, the poet tells many stories at once. In the poem, and in life, a mother is teacher, worker, provider, and ultimate keeper of hope. We look at mothers through different eyes than we do anyone else, and different details hone themselves in a growing child’s eyes as they consider their mothers over time. Rather than what we “see” at first glance, mothers are known through touch, voice, presence, and the keen, myopic observations made by a child of one who shapes their world and who has vast power.
Seen through the poet’s adult eyes, a more nuanced portrait of this mother emerges, one that holds admiration and awareness of her persistence, the obstacles she faced as a single, working-class mom who held to her principles no matter the cost (“because you weren’t the one / sleeping with the boss”) did not have time or, perhaps, money for beauty salon tending (“no matter your eyebrows”).
The poem’s final line, “showed your beautiful teeth,” holds a primitive essence, and one can’t help to think of an animal snarling and (given the book’s title) the ferocity of a competitor. Yet this is a smile of hope and boundaries all in one move—and what a legacy to offer a child. This is the move the speaker learned. This response to adversity: “the woman who taught me how / to smile.”
Couplets underscore the tight relationship of mom and child in “Mother.” The few instances of repetition (“no matter” at the start and “you” toward the end) amplify the wonder of, admiration for, and centrality of this mother. In fact, that final smile she gives may be a “deke” of another sort:
deke, n: In ice hockey, deceptive movement of feint that induces an opponent to move out of position. origin: 1960’s: shortened form of decoy. – Oxford English Dictionary
Here is the poem in its entirety:
No matter hair, no matter
eyebrows, you are now still
the woman who taught me how
to smile. I remember the day
you came home early from work
with a box, the contents of your desk,
because you weren’t the one
sleeping with the boss, and you,
single mom with three kids.
rent late, refrigerator empty,
you let the box down
and showed your beautiful teeth.
The Broadsided Poem in the Book:
“Hockey Poem,” words by Gibson Fay-LeBlanc and art by Michele L’Heureux, published December 1, 2013.
Four Questions from Broadsided Press; Four Answers from Gibson Fay-LeBlanc
Bsided: Throughout the book there is tension between two different things. Whether it is a mom standing in front of kids after being fired or players talking about poems in a hockey locker room, we teeter between spaces where different realities are at odds. Do you go into writing knowing you want to get at that space between two stories (places and ways of being), or do you end up there?
GFL: I don’t go into a piece of writing knowing much of anything. Often I’m following some bit of music, some momentum of syntax and feeling. I follow without knowing where I’m going—if I know too much, I end up trying to steer a poem somewhere, which never ends well.
That said, “Hockey Poem” was one of the first poems I wrote in this collection. I’d been trying (and failing) for years to write ice hockey and locker rooms into poems. Then I walked into a locker room one morning, and this guy says, “There’s no fucking talk about books here,” and I was off writing into that space between hockey and poetry, these two activities we can think of as games and ways of being.
I realized over time that hockey—this game I grew up playing and still play—could be a way to write about my brother, about masculinity and tenderness and parenthood. I think in some ways that poem became a model for other poems in the collection. More generally, I’ve always been interested in poems that bring together two or more stories that we wouldn’t expect to be together, much less in a poem.
Bsided: Tell us what being a hockey player taught you about writing and vice versa?
GFL: As a game, hockey is a wild combination of physicality and grace, of speed and space. There’s such form to it, and there are endless creative ways to surprise and break away from what’s expected. It sounds like writing, no? At my book launch, I was talking about this with three other writers, and I realized that these qualities—physicality, grace, speed, etc—are some of the things I most value in the work of the writers I love.
I love writing that is rooted in things and in the physicality and music of our daily lives. I love writing that moves with grace and speed into unexpected places, that reminds us through the minute particulars that we live in bodies, that we are only here on this earth for a brief period of moments. So often our bodies know or are aware of more than we are conscious of, and that’s as true in writing as it is in hockey.
Bsided: Regarding the poem “Mother,” do you remember when you first realized how much she was holding?
GFL: That’s a good question. That’s a brief poem with a lot packed into it. There are levels of awareness, right? As a kid, I watched my mom learn a profession and start a career in real estate because someone had to support our family as her marriage to my father, an alcoholic, fell apart. When I was in middle and high school, my father was basically out of the picture, and everything fell on her shoulders. I was aware of that as a teenager. Real estate is often a feast or famine profession, and there were a lot of ups and downs. My mom loved to smile and laugh and believed deeply in being kind, but she was also fierce, particularly when it came to her kids.
I remember that moment when she walked through the door that day with the contents of her desk. She was angry, hurt, and scared, I think, and told me about this terrible thing that happened, and yet she had this fierce smile. I’m sure I could not have articulated that at the time—but it’s one of those memories that vibrates at a different frequency. The playwright John Guare calls them “memories with teeth,” which I love.
I wrote “Mother” when my mom was in the midst of a first bout with cancer, and she—a former prom queen, a real estate agent in a world that values a woman’s appearance above so much else—had lost her hair and eyebrows. I wrote this to remind her (and me) of her fierce, beautiful smile.
Bsided: My son plays hockey. The overwhelming sounds of a hockey game stick with me. I feel that of my favorite poems, too. Tell us about the confluence for you between sound and poetry.
GFL: Yes, the sounds of hockey are so distinct. Skate blades on ice, a stick hitting a puck, a puck hitting a goal post. Poems with the sound turned all the way up were some of the first ones to grab hold of me—Gerard Manley Hopkins was one of the first, and there were many more to follow.
There’s a level of sound and momentum that I’m always looking for in a sentence, in a poem, whether it’s mine or someone else’s. That’s probably due in part to playing hockey, as well as to listening to a lot of rap and hip hop as an adolescent in Chicago, as well as to growing up in the heart of a busy, working city.
Like any poet, I appreciate all the senses, but sound has a way of working on us even when we’re not totally aware of it. It gets into our bodies. I spend a lot of time on the rhythm and sound of my poems, trying to create some music that works on us whether we’re conscious of it or not.
Andrea Van Dinther lives in Alaska with her family. She is a writer and an Expedition Leader. She received her MFA from University of Alaska.