Danny Caine’s Poetry Considers Malls, Beer Ads and Waffle House

[photo: Mason Jar Press]
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Danny Caine’s poems are not about Grecian urns and comparisons to a summer's day. Instead, the Solon native writes of past-their-prime shopping malls, Budweiser commercials and trip to the Waffle House in his new book, “Continental Breakfast” (Mason Jar Press). Tucked in these often funny poems are sharp observations about popular culture’s deep hold on our lives.

Caine, who earned a Master’s degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from the University of Kansas, makes his home in Lawrence, Kansas, where he owns The Raven Bookstore. He admits he has mixed feelings about the way consumerism affects us.

“I don’t think capitalist-driven popular culture can be let off the hook. In many ways it is dangerous and destructive, but I’m not interested in writing straight up ironic poems or satire just condemning all of this. What am I going to do as a poet? You read a lot of literature about the suburbs and I’m thinking mostly in terms of novelists. There’s a lot of darkness bubbling under the calm façade of the suburbs. I was interested in telling a story set in this Midwestern landscape, totally driven by brands, that could find a little bit of joy or humor in it, too,” Caine said.

The poems in the first half of the book deal with topics ranging from a man who becomes indignant at the notion of free ice cream day at Ben and Jerry’s to suggestions of the right way to approach a continental breakfast in hotel chains found near airports and freeway exits.

Caine found it interesting that several writers saw the poems in “Continental Breakfast” as both an ode and a critique of consumer culture.

“A lot of time I write from a place of ambivalence, not ambivalence from lack of feeling, but rather strong feelings both positive and negative at the same time.”

[photo: Mason Jar Press]

Addressing a subject without having just one opinion about it is one of the things that Caine loves most about poetry.

“Poetry is an art form that lets you question and explore ambivalence. You don’t need an answer to write a poem. You can explore the uncertainties, where you feel nostalgia, affinity and critical of your subject at the same time,” Caine said.

In the second half of “Continental Breakfast,” Caine shares the collection of poems, “Uncle Harold’s Maxwell House Haggadah.” The works grew out of a trip that Caine took the Heinen’s on Green Road in University Heights as Passover approached.

“Their display of Passover junk food was truly staggering. You change your dietary habits on Passover to remind yourself that the Jews having to leave Egypt ate the bread of affliction. They had to flee so fast, their bread couldn’t bake properly so they had to eat matzoh as they were fleeing slavery and oppression. Yet somehow this translates into this weird little candies are that are more expensive and less delicious. I just started writing down the names of the product that I thought were funny and I saved that piece of paper. It eventually became one of the first poems I wrote for “Continental Breakfast.”

Caine hopes whether it’s Passover candy, Applebee’s or Circuit City, that people identify with his work, but he also has another motive when he includes products and places most of us recognize in his poems. “

"The reason to include this branded, Midwestern landscape is because it is what formed me. I didn’t see it that much in poems. I don’t know if I’m paying more attention or people are quieting their instincts to write about Waffle House because it is considered an unpoetic place. That’s a problematic idea to me. If we consider certain things or places poetic and others not, you are silencing an entire range of experiences that people would like to see in a poem. Into that lack, I started writing my own poems, because I haven’t seen enough poems about grocery store parking lots, so I’m going to write my own,” Caine said.

Danny Caine, ideastream's Dan Polletta [photo: Dave DeOreo:ideastream]

Hear Danny read “The Inflatable Matzoh Ball Of Affliction


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