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David Oates brings humor in The Deer's Bandanna

The Deer’s Bandanna

David Oates

Brick Road Poetry Press


David Oates’ new collection The Deer’s Bandanna delights. Composed almost entirely of haiku, Bandanna moves between the personal and the cosmic, between nature and man, and between the highs and lows of the grand comedy of life. Oates’ dry timing balloons much of Bandanna and sets it aloft. Oates reminds us that without grace and a sense of humor, life’s trials and banal struggles can weigh us down.

Because the poems are short, Brick Road (mostly) prints two poems a page, and at nearly 100 pages in length, Bandanna showcases almost two hundred poems. Oates covers dozens of themes and tropes and moves between the natural, the quotidian and the often tragic world of man. If there is an overarching theme it is the folly of life. Oates’ sharp eye and ear reveal the wonder, the humor, and the tragedy of modern life.

Early on in the collection, Oates offers this gem:

shining in the sun

plastic bags woven

in an osprey’s nest

A sharp haiku that somehow manages to both be a warning of pollution and a celebration of life. The osprey's the hero and the victim, and humankind, a careless caretaker. Not that Oates is soapboxing in this collection, far from it. Oates is a joyful observer of domestic life, of the neighborhood, and of the family.

following fire truck

into our street

did I turn off the stove?

nice to be a grown up

making my own decision

about a nightlight

she’s out on a date

her father listens

to tree frogs

Bandanna also offers plenty of eros. Whether it is the painful afterjoy of a bite on a nipple, or the smell of a lover on a shirt. His sense of humor is ever on display, and I can imagine him smiling as he hits certain notes:

His ab exercises

Every time a young woman

Comes near

Middle school

First French kiss

Too much drool

It’s funny because it’s true, and in the case of drool, gross. The brevity of haiku forces the writer to strip away the world to the most important images, or emotions, or sounds, or even all three. And the form, the brevity, allow Oates to leap through America, stopping to notice the broccoli at Cracker Barrel, or where a cat chooses to sleep. And because of the form, the brevity, within a few pages, Oates whirls the reader through a variety of emotional landscapes: childhood, parenthood, sex, love, breakups, worry, joy, cancer, death, grief, and grandparenthood, not to mention the serenity and beauty of the natural world.

Best read in bursts, to savor the image, The Deer’s Bandanna is dense, knotted, and witty and reveals some of humankind’s most universal faults, which become shared treasures in Oates sure hands.


Stephen Scott Whitaker is the managing editor of The Broadkill Review and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. He has new poems forthcoming in Miracle Monocle, The Scores, and Toe Good. A novel of weird fiction, Mulch, is forthcoming from Montag Press.

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