title | intro | contents | bio | notes | blurbs


I almost killed Chad Penderson the first time we met:

It was a clear day, summery ... I remember I was in my pontoon boat breezily eating some mustard-egg potato salad when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw what I thought to be a snapping turtle. Not caring much for reptiles, I aimed my boat at the creature, but just before impact—and, it turns out, just in time—I realized that what I took as turtle was actually human (and, no less, a poet!), so I reversed the throttle and veered, narrowly avoiding the floater, who watched helplessly as I glided the middle of the pontoon boat over him and cut the motor.

I can assure you that almost running over Chad’s round face that day troubled me not a little, although later I will admit his poetry would so confound my understanding of "writing" and "the world" that I wonder now if I should have simply rotored his head clean off and puttered home. Being, however, that I don’t kill strangers, I yelled under my boat to apologize, explaining the snapping turtle gaffe and offering to help Chad back to dry land.

Chad accepted my offer, saying he understood about the turtle and explaining that he’d been floating since about 3 AM the previous night when, on a booze cruise with some friends, he'd fallen unnoticed off the back of their boat while taking a piss and drifted in his life jacket to the spot where I tried to murder him.

Why, I asked upon hearing the story, hadn’t he just swum to shore, seeing as it wasn’t more than a few hundred yards from where he was? To which he replied—referring to himself, not untypically for him, grammatically incorrectly in the third person—“Chad don’t swim,” thereby introducing and explaining himself in one succinct, but resonant sentence, whose repetition at my next question—“Don’t swim or can’t?”—only served to reiterate (although unbeknownst to me at the time) his mastery of the blunt, reticent dialect of those Hoosiers indigenous to Steuben County, land of 107 lakes.

Thus began a reluctant friendship of short duration by whose fruits you are about to be astounded.

After helping Chad awkwardly flop/climb into my boat, I took him back to my place to clean up. On our arrival, I offered him a beer and some potato salad—stealthily hiding in a cupboard my Doritos, which I liked to eat dipped in salsa each afternoon. Chad took the beer and the food, and as men will, I am told, when forming new relationships, we ended up having not one but several beers together, while sitting.

We spoke in some depth that afternoon, about me, mostly, although Chad did begin to tell me more about his own life, and about Fremont, Indiana where he was from. But just as he began describing Sue, his on-again, off-again girlfriend/interrogator/lover, I subtly interrupted him so as to steer the conversation back to my favorite subject, writing—and more specifically, my writing—which ended up being a very fruitful topic for the both of us.

You see, I was working on my first book that summer—a Bildungsroman in verse I was calling The Hell I AM—and on hearing that I wrote poetry, Chad mentioned that he liked to make up little poems as well. I skipped right past this admission—I have learned that other people’s poetry and interests in poetry are to be discouraged at all costs—and instead began explaining my difficulties at writing narratively from the atavistic subaltern position until, due perhaps to his being overwhelmed by the scope of my work (and who can blame him), Chad excused himself to take a piss outside, then simply walked off south through the darkening field that marks the border between Michigan and Indiana.

Some weeks later, in what would prove a momentously banal occasion, I looked in my mailbox one afternoon to find a manila envelope stuffed with notebook pages full of scribbling. On the back of the envelope was written “Chad’s Book” in large block letters, and on the front, this greeting from Chad:

Hello Dickhead,

Here. Do with these whatever. I’m done with Indiana and poetry and am moving west. Hopefully to where there are hills and larger bodies of water.

Sin-fucking-cerely, Chad Penderson

P.S. I know where you hide your Doritos.

I didn't pick up the manuscript for several days, as I was in the midst of an intense revision of The Hell I AM and spent most of my waking hours reading it out loud to myself. However when I finally did look at the poems, like a summer morning, the genius of Chad's poetry slowly dawned on me.

Each page possessed its own personal/spiritual gastrotempography: poems were often written on top of other poems, food items were usually listed towards the bottom left, and each page was dated and time-stamped at the top, like a time sheet. Hard to comprehend, yes, for the common reader, but as I began to decipher the script, the structural aspects of each page became more familiar and suddenly I understood what I was deciphering/reading . . . i.e. nothing less than some of the finest poetry yet written on the North American continent.

Penderson’s poems, I realized then and proclaim now, defy the niceties of poetic tradition in such a way as to complicate the idea (T.S. Eliot’s, among others) of tradition in general. Here were true sonnets, anti-sonnets, sonnets masquerading as anti-sonnets, anti-sonnets masquerading as true sonnets, and poems about dogs and people, the latter subject being Chad’s most important, as the poems of Chad Penderson teach us nothing if not how to be people experiencing the world of Chad Penderson ... a world that becomes, increasingly, the reader's own until he/she must also begin to call home that small swath of land in the northeast corner of Indiana from which escape is both necessary and impossible.

True to his word, Chad disappeared (save for his constant emails) after leaving the envelope in my mailbox. Perhaps, like Rimbaud, he had given all he could to poetry and so left to pursue a dark solitude in the depths of a strange vocation. Or perhaps he is in a bar somewhere in Illinois eating fried mushrooms dipped in ketchup. Wherever he is, and whatever he decides to do with his life and talent from here on out matters little, as, like few poets before him, what he has left us changes everything.

Here is the first true collection of the 21st Century.

You have not had for a hundred years any book that comes more direct and flamingly from the heart of a living man.

Copyright Devin Becker 2010
Created April 2010; last updated September 2012