M. EARL SMITH Reviews
Stick Up by Paul David Adkins
(Blood Pudding Press, 2014)
In the poetic arena, there are no set styles. One can read the works of, say, Sylvia Plath or Emily Dickinson and garner just as much joy at examining the abstract as one can get reading, say, Poe, and taking his musings at face value. And while poetry, as an art, has shifted, with more poets taking the time to focus on craft and stylings, every now and again, you come across a set of poems that are worth reading simply for their entertainment value.
That’s not to say, of course, that the work done by Paul David Adkins is simply entertaining filler. The story that Adkins portrays is gritty: a down-on-her-luck woman, down to her last dime and chased by the demons of her own addictions (in this case, gambling and drinking) finally snaps. What follows is the intersection of several lives, all caught in a moment of drama not, for the most part, of their making. Through this series of poems, we see how the themes of religion (If God wanted to / save her, now was His chance / to give her / one hundred / thousand signs), addiction, and poverty are brought to the forefront. It’s fair to note, in all this, that Adkins is a counselor, one who served in the armed forces for 21 years, so these stories of desperation and woe are not something he writes about in the abstract. The poems in Stick Up are so gritty, so personal, and so real that one can fairly assume that Adkins is writing from some sort of personal experience.
In eighteen poetic forms, we are given a tale of hopeless desperation. We meet and then lose characters who, even in their passing roles, help give this poetic story enough form and substance to be entertaining even over several passes. Never have the words April Fools! worked so well at breaking the tension. This is Adkins’ true talent: in even this short tale, one that plays out several times in many different parts of the world, in some variation, he manages to hold your attention. You cannot wait to see what happens next.
The presentation of Stick Up is done a great service by the gang over at Blood Pudding Press. They seem to have the art of the chapbook down to near-perfection: my review copy was printed on olive green paper, bound with a beautiful, ragged section of multi-colored yarn. There’s little thought to presenting this tale with a fancy font or colored lettering. The staff seems to understand that, with this particular cold tale, the starker, the better. If you’re a fan of realism, gritty poetry, storytelling through poetry, or the art of the chapbook, then this volume is most certainly one you should take a peek at.
M. Earl Smith is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, with a dual focus in historical research and creative historical writing. His current research projects include the transcription of Francis Daniel Pastorius’s Beehive, with a focus on the representation of historical figures in commonplace books, as well as a piece of historical fiction surrounding the French Revolution. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org