A Review: Dickhead by Wayne F. Burke

DICKHEAD_by_Wayne_F__BurkeDickhead is Wayne F. Burke’s second, full collection of poetry; the first being Words That Burn which was a profoundly honest book of poems that set an impossibly high standard. It is however, a standard that Wayne has maintained in this follow-up collection. The themes in Burke’s work are fairly consistent but Dickhead is by no means a replica of Words That Burn.

The book is split into eight sections, each being introduced by an untitled poem. These introductory poems are as short as they are sharp and they exemplify Burke’s poetic versatility. He writes obliquely yet he does it in an ostensibly straightforward manner, as though he’s chatting over the garden fence or catching up with a pal; using phrasing and metaphor uncommon to everyday conversation, but he manages to pull it off in a wholly conversational tone. He makes the far-off reachable, presenting life’s complexities in simple terms and he makes it all look so damn easy.

a guy on the street
who looks like me:
I clench my fists
in case he tries to
get tough.

(Untitled, p. 9)

This initial, introductory poem, with its hip-shot style, candid turn of phrase and self-deprecatory absurdism establishes a worthy precedent that is built upon as the poems progress. Conflict is a major theme throughout the book, particularly within the male and female relationship. More importantly though is the inner conflict Burke ruminates on which all other conflicts stem from.

I told her while we were
lying in bed:
Told her it was over.
She started to weep and
I wanted to comfort her
but could not, would not…

(from ‘Stabbed’ p. 10)

Another prominent theme within the book, as well as throughout Burke’s wider work is coming to terms with, or at least learning to cope with the grind of life; the hours, days, weeks and years that have to be handed over to a job and pointless interactions and sleepless nights and the other such common thievery.

feeling stressed
8 A.M.
bedroom overcast
the telephone blinking
with a call from work
asking for more hours of
my life
plus a dream
in my head
of me escorting a woman
two girls, two cats
through busy city streets –
a job and a half
and I’m beat
and have not even
brushed my teeth

(‘Stress’ p. 63)

One of Wayne’s strongest attributes as a poet is his willingness to make the private public, exposing the most intimate area of all; the thought process. The human condition is to be beautiful and to be ugly, to succeed and fail, to have hope and to be hopeless. In the poem, ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ there is an ironic type of hope; a hope that somehow recognises its own limitations. Whereas the poem, ‘Gods’, exudes a bold and unabashed hope. Then there is the poem, ‘Smiler’, a bitter piece where resentment, cynicism, anger and general ill-feeling are directed towards a well-meaning nurse. It is these contradictions of opinion and emotional reactions that make this book such a compelling read. Beauty and vulgarity are often only a few words away from each other, and he makes them fit as though they are life-long bedfellows. Wayne is not afraid to speak as the tough, old bastard as well as the romantic, young fool, and he pulls them both off with style.

…look out the window
at the sky
opening to immensities
of space
beyond the dark
and dismal-seeming day
which is
in a way
quite beautiful

(from ‘Wake-up’ p. 66)

Dickhead rings with purpose and tribute as Burke pays homage to people he has met along the way, to family, art and poetry itself. One such tribute is in the poem ‘In Praise Of’, which demonstrates Burke’s flair for the character sketch.

The beautiful Shelia O’Ryan
10th grade English teacher
who was from elsewhere
and was flown in with
her long lovely legs dangling
and praised my writing and
read it out-loud to the class…
…to me she was special
like a solar eclipse
and her praise something I needed
something I did not get from anyone else

(from ‘In Praise Of’ p. 26)

In the poem, ‘Buk’, Burke talks about being compared to Bukowski. He can’t decide whether the comparison is meant as a compliment or an insult. He decides to take it as a compliment. Any writer worth his/her salt would be quite right to hesitate over accepting any such compliment/insult. After all, Bukowski is often described as America’s most imitated poet; and who wants to be known as an imitator? Furthermore, who wants to be known as an imitator of a poet whose bull-headed legend supersedes his poetry? The poem in question reminded me of a time my wife picked up one of my Bukowski collections and after a few pages stated in a surprised tone, “Wow. This guy really knew how to write, eh?” she had expected the poems to be little more than bars, whores and horses.

Actually the comparison does fit, but Wayne F. Burke is no imitator. Like Bukowski, Wayne writes an honest line from a blue-collar perspective with a hell of a lot of heart, but he does it with an original voice and his own poetic depth. His poems are personal, and he is quite capable of making a personal connection with his reader; to the point where getting stuck into this collection is like being let in on a private joke or reacquainting yourself with an old friend.

Bukowski the truth-say-er

(from ‘Buk’ p. 90)

At its first read these poems seem blunt and simplistic, but these words grow during the experience, there is more to be found with each read. Dickhead’s profundity is found in between the lines. Burke is a poet who recognises significance cannot survive without triviality, there is no life without death, health is at its most treasured state after sickness and realism hits home hardest in the midst of absurdity.

turkeys on the run
from hunters with
the mashed potatoes
at being lumped with
the squash
and the cranberry sauce
laments the loss
of table space
to stuffing up
the orifice
of the state bird

(Untitled p. 74)

Hopefully there will be more poetry collections to come from Wayne, maybe some other types of books as well, given that fiction and review are also genres he has proven himself in. Dickhead, much like Wayne’s larger body of work is about becoming a man, it’s about the boy inside who still skips and sings, it’s about the grind and coming to terms with self, it’s about fantasy, reality, connection, ugliness and beauty; most importantly though, it is a book and a body of work that asks more questions than it answers. The word genius is bandied about far too freely, and most geniuses are not recognised as such in their life time. With that being said I am not the least bit hesitant in claiming Burke’s poetic genius and I hope it is recognised in his lifetime.



Title: Dickhead

Author: Wayne F. Burke

Publisher: Bareback Press

Publication Date: June 2015

ISBN-10: 1926449053

Page count: 108

Cover Price: £5.56 / $13 paperback

Dickhead can be purchased on Amazon.

Matthew J. Hall

Matthew J. Hall

An avid reader, writer and reviewer of poetry and short fiction. Author of Blood Pudding Press 2015 chapbook contest winner, Pigeons and Peace Doves and The Human Condition is a Terminal Illness will soon be available through Bareback Press (2017).
Matthew J. Hall
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