Behind the Titles: A Closer Look
at The Truck Driver’s Daughter by Denise R. Weuve
Featuring ELJ Publications’ April Jones and Lisa Marie Cole
I love the opening poem in this collection, “When My Mother Danced.” It’s a poem about the narrator’s grandmother and mother dancing because the grandmother had won some chickens from playing Bingo. This sense of freedom and two women being carefree enough to move furniture and dance around the living room is such a beautiful image. It’s also such a stark contrast to the following poem which is about abuse. I think that it says a lot about the collection as a whole. To open with this poem about dancing rather than the next one about abuse says to me that the narrator is going to weave us a story that may be a rollercoaster, but that the foundation of this story is freedom. What thoughts did you have on the first poem? Did it strike you the same way that it did me?
Yes, the opening poem made me feel similarly. Opening with dancing was an interesting choice, given that there is an undercurrent of such violence in this book. But, like a Lana Del Rey song, there is a kind of beauty interspersed among the bruises. The language utilized is powerful, biting, and sharp, sometimes surreal, and the humor is dark and ironic. It is well placed when it does appear, as in the poems “Jesse James 78” and “Human Anatomy Parts.”
What thoughts did you have on “The Haircut?” This poem is about a photograph in which the narrator’s mother captures the clock while trying to get a picture of the narrator’s younger brother. The poem goes on to tell us that her brother, when he grows up, grows his hair out which doesn’t seem all that discouraging until we read the last lines, “Or maybe she just/ wanted to know/ it was ten after four/the day she lost control.” The tragedy is heightened when you realize that just a few lines before when we’re being introduced to the poem that her brother is only two. There’s so much of a story here and so much being left out. I love the balance in this poem. Each poem we learn more and more about loss, but in this particular poem the balance between what is happening, the description of a photograph, and what is actually happening, the mother losing control by some means we aren’t privy to, is beautifully done. It’s so easy to over tell a story, to zero in on the details that you want to highlight so that readers understand just why you feel the way you do, but that often isn’t a great way to tell a story. But in this collection we learn just enough, there’s no over telling of the story, that our heart breaks each time something is lost even if we aren’t sure how it happens.
“The Haircut” was also an interesting poem. What struck me the most about the book were the moments— like in this poem—where a part of the story remained untold, and was left out, like in the poem “The Haircut.” What is the full story here? How did the mother lose control exactly? The poems are gripping enough that I want to know more of the story. Strangely enough, the book makes references to the fact that things are left out, that there are parts missing, in poems like “Reading Carver”:
Between the swigs he grumbled
Carver had it
the less said the better.
So we say nothing.
What I am learning is that what is unsaid is sometimes more powerful than what is said, and perhaps that is what makes this collection fit into the genre of poetry; I think that more of a story can be omitted in poetry, while still keeping the integrity of the story intact. I think that’s what happens in The Truck Driver’s Daughter. The integrity of the story remains strong throughout the text, and though their outlines may be blurry, I start to really care about the characters. In fact, the characters indeed blur into one another. I wonder about the address circuit. Who is the you? The I? The she and he? Who is the mother, the sister, the daughter, the father? Where does one person end and the other begin? Storylines blur like blood lines do in The Truck Driver’s Daughter which makes it all the more riveting.
What are your thoughts on “Heredity?” This is the closing poem of the collection in which we learn about the narrator’s siblings. Her three brothers have grown into their fathers, which is heartbreaking as they aren’t good men, and the fear of cancer the narrator inherited from her mother’s encounter with breast and uterine cancer. The poem compares not only her brothers to their fathers, but also the cancer to the abuse her mother suffered at the hands of the men she loved. I think that the lines, “and this one/ blessed female/ who too often walks/ as pigeoned as you into/ the callous hands of men” is the one that takes my breath away. This woman, this mother that we’ve come to know over the course of this collection has seemingly nothing to show from the live she has lived. But then I think back to the woman dancing with her mother over chickens and I smile. Sure, like has been a series of heart breaks but the woman who danced is still there for me. She loved. Maybe not always the right people, but she loved and she lived and she danced.
“Heredity” was such a dark piece, but what struck me the most here was the last few lines:
You leave her death
neatly wrapped in yearly
visits to the gynecologist,
scraped from the inside out.
Each year she reaches out,
head tilted to the doctor’s whisper,
and does not breathe
long enough to hear,
you are not your mother.
I felt like the emotional center of the book was the mother figure, so to both end on the mother’s death and the proclamation that “You are not your mother” was a strange kind of countering to the rest of the book. It seems like a denouncing of the family, of the mother—a kind of negation of the story. It certainly leaves the book’s readers something to think about.