Poems for this Life

by Samuel Hazo

I've admired the work of Jim Daniels since his first book (Places/Everyone) appeared in 1985. My admiration increased with each successive book: Punching Out and M-80, plus a chapbook entitled Niagara Falls. Now we have Blessing the House, in which his talent remains as strong and defiant as ever. Let me add up front that I admire Daniels himself-his quiet steadiness, his almost Lincolnesque mix of candor and good humor, his tragic sense. All this makes him a very good poet now, with the potential of becoming a truly exceptional poet in time to come.

Some might say that Daniels' basic subject matter (working people) makes him a blue-collar poet in the best sense. After all, he comes out of a working man's Detroit-the tough union workers of Chrysler and GM, the Tigers in the summer and the hard winters, lunch pails, timeclocks and racial problems. The fact that he now teaches in Pittsburgh (at Carnegie Mellon University) is a perfect transition since both Pittsburgh and Detroit are proletarian cities; the phonies don't come, and they don't last if they do come. But Daniels is more than a poet of place, although DetroitûPittsburgh is the perfect mix for him, a graduate of the traditional parish schools that have given him a core that is changeless:

He keeps on resurrecting his boyhood and adolescence like old scrapbook photographs in poems like "Faith,"  "Polish American Night, Tiger Stadium" and "God's Stopwatch." The latter concludes: What appeals to me most in these new poems is how Daniels experiences the world he moves in and through. He feels it with his entire self. If I can offer one suggestion for a poet of his talent and range, I would suggest that he follow the spirit of the third section of this book in which the poems arise from travel. This removes him from his basic city-subjects, to be sure, but the change is absolutely healthy. Daniels' sensibility is not intimidated but enriched by a train ride in Italy or a visit to an acquisitive and inquisitive semi-relation in Yugoslavia to whom he has brought a blouse "from America": It's an injustice to quote so little of this poem; it's called "Silk," and it's a masterpiece. I praise it and its sister poems for their maturity-poems of a grown man with a spiritual core. Daniels has moral concerns that bind him to the things and people of this world, and they begin with his own family-his love for his father and mother, his wife and his children. I still recall a landmark of a poem from his previous book, M-80; it was called "Anthem," and it was about attending a football game with his father: There is a tenderness in these lines that is inimitable, and it is not limited to his parents alone. Here are just two lines to his wife from "A Day of Sainthood"-"Sometimes I think calmness is love./Peace, the small caress and no words." Appropriately the book ends with a family poem, which balances the title poem that introduces and sets the tone for the entire book. Daniels here speaks as a son who is now a father himself and, as a son-father, prays for the people who made him (and now his growing family) possible. The concluding lines define the book as the book defines the man: Poet and novelist Samuel Hazo was named the first State Poet of Pennsylvania in 1993. A professor at Duquesne University, he has been director of the International Poetry Forum since 1966.