about the author

Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the forthcoming novel Maintain (Ampersand Books, 2012). A regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books, Dew is the author of Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.

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He Took a Cab
A Review of He Took a Cab
by Mather Schneider

Spencer Dew

Here is a collection of poems about being a cab driver. “I spend my life driving in circles,” says one poem, another, offering a personal history, tells “Then I got this job / driving cab / and my nerves are now raw from the 13-hour / nights.” “I’m a cab driver, which means I deal / with traffic.”

As for style, a blankness of verse pervades: “She loves donut holes, / so do I, / who doesn’t, / but before I can deliver them to her / I get a fare from dispatch.” As for imagery: “The smell of exhaust like death” lingers in the air, for instance, or a woman “ugly as a gargoyle” with a “Tom Selleck mustache / her wine barrel body . . . her peroxide blond hair frizzy / as death by chair / her bound-sausage feet and Michelin Man legs / her two-ham ass / her blood-blossoms of acne / mixed with cheap makeup / like strawberry icing on her foul cake face.”

There is a rage here, class-related, from the cabbie working to pay his bills: against the “overgrown frat boy,” the “bored heir of a lucky fortune,” the man who “has never worked a day in his life,” the woman who has “never worked.” There is also anger against other drivers, hatred even, toward “The brown-toothed mouth-breather in the / roid-rage truck” and assorted others. At one point the narrator notes that “I don’t know anything personal / about those I’m dismissing / as stupid and subhuman, / and maybe that’s the secret / to banishing them all to hell.”

A spark of wisdom, there, it seems, in a book where empathy is hard won at best, with fares who are sick, dying, and small traumas observed at a distance, as though through a rearview mirror. A wife, at least one girlfriend, assorted call girls: they pop up across these poems, as do drunks, other cabbies, and the burnt out but uniquely hopeful, like the man who says “I got to get out of this town. / I’m going to San Diego. / I know this guy there has a used car lot / and he needs someone to stand out by the road / in a bear suit.”

Most of the pieces here don’t have that sparkle, and most often emerge from an anecdote of cab-driving—the man who haggles for a lower fare, but then asks to break a hundred—or a quirk of the cabbie mindset—“The superiority of school bus drivers / grates on my nerves,” one poem begins, but the larger concern here is about the circles one gets stuck in, not the actual driving. These are dispatches from a life spent shuttling to and fro in the world’s traffic, notes from a poet alternately disgusted and desperate, but—like that man maybe planning to don a bear suit—not without some hope, needful as it is wary:

Normal life is such a drag
with no diamonds in your
no magic in your blood
and my girlfriend told me
she has never heard
a cat purr
and I thought,
I love you,
I love you,
but will it
be enough?

Official Mather Schneider Web Site
Official NYQ Books Web Site

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