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Thomas Devaney reads from Runaway Goat Cart

Poetry in Philadelphia was a seminal experience for me. I found the Waste Land in a used bookstore on Locust Street in my teens; I read Walt Whitman there in my early twenties, and returned to the city in the mid-70s to become part of what was and still is a lively poetry scene. Philly continues to be a city for poets. You really can’t throw a stone without hitting one. And one of the poets you are most likely to hit is Thomas Devaney.

I took the Chinatown bus (twenty bucks round trip) last week to see and record him where he lives in Center City with his partner Amy in a co-op on Chestnut Street twelve stories up. The balcony looks out toward Rittenhouse Square whose trees are visible in the distance, a lovely lucky place, very open for reading and writing.

Tom is younger than most of the poets I know in Philadelphia, but he has deep roots in the city. Over the past 15 years he has been an active member of the poetry community: working at the Kelly Writers House in the early aughts, hosting readings, editing publications, teaching at Haverford College, and showing visiting poets around when they are in town.

When I first heard the title of his new book, Runaway Goat Cart—beautiful cover by the way!—I thought it was Runaway Go Cart. A runaway goat cart is much more vivid, intriguing and interesting any day. And that’s how reading the book struck me; I was expecting poetry, of course, but the poetry went beyond my expectations, and took me places I didn’t know I was going to go.

From this surprising adventure in language, I have typed out three poems below. Two of them, Runaway Goat Cart and The Last Topiary, Tom doesn’t read on the Vimeo here. When he reads The Sky Under Construction, his voice is full of urgent emotion, ready to burst with the desire for us to hear the sincere well-worked words. Poets strive and long to be heard and this one is no exception; what is exceptional about this one is that he succeeds.

I often have to edit a poet’s reading; poets repeat, go back, forget. Not with Tom though who reads each poem in one take with a clarity from beginning to end that remains unbroken; even when it goes off careening, almost out of control, the poet holds on; even when a part of the poem crashes, and we stand in the aftermath looking at a fallen broken ledge, unharmed we examine creation from destruction there on the sidewalk where it is; and finally out of the careening and crashing, the poet summons all of his strength, his talent and skill to write and join the light in the limbs at last, which is almost silent but not quite.


This is how the cart starts:

like a bad brother and sister team hitching

up the horror.

The goat cart starts like this: a stuttering path

low branchespatches of lightthe lake

the woods

Something like a smouldering fire in the nose.

It starts like gumption and bad apples:

those large wheels wheeling larger,

cracking forward—

To fly and to die

but first to shout

in the buggy air.

Night of mosquitoes and mud, night of uprooted trees and glee,

swooping bats—

nothing left to see.

They pick up speed like this: sister says no

and brother says, no, oh no.

The blind scartch of a thicket, one, two, three, four phantom more;

the scent of tree clumps in each divot.

This is how the mud-matted goat runs:

its slatted eyes back behind its head—a fright

outstripping her own muscle bands,

and those freak eyes again.

This is how the goat and cart run off from each other:


bloody nose first.

The scrappiest kid fighters

taken out at the knees—

and all the body parts rattling right-the-fuck-off.

This, how they nearly capsize: cleaving and clawing, pounding by forces

beyond their control—

starry starry stars. Starry starry scars—

the last screech inside their nonstop STOP.

The cart shifts like this:

BLUE for night when the night is black.

BLACK if they could see and black if they couldn’t—

there’s no keeping up, no way to say NO MORE—


no holy shit

no Holy Shit Hell.

If you want a story, come back tomorrow.


Sweet Jesus crashes to the sidewalk.

Part of the building has just slipped off—

and everyone is stopped in an instant circle

around the ledge.The city performs a pause

and miraculous someone says no one was killed.

We are huddling outside of Dazzling Nails.

Even before the scene was taped off it was taped off.

The slab cracked in two, a smooth phantom dolphin,

and the crowd extending down the street.

Closer in, a group of men look with an eye to see

how the ledge might be moved. But there’s another lift

of the eyes, up to the building and vacancy

where the ledge had been. The hole there, an homage

to stone that lived so long in the sky, and

the ambition to build into the brilliance against

the continuous line. I heard a Berlioz song

five or six stories up—mingling with a spin class.

the windows wide open in a clear yet distant throttle—

Does anyone really know where music comes from?

Wilderness of blue and glass: the sky perfectly adrift,

perfectly clear, a blazing stream of duststrewn daylight,

its spin, nothing out of place.


Once in a row house garden there grew a shrub.
A bold afternoon light fell in love with the shrub.
The were highly similar: the Shrub—trim and shiny,
and the Light—generous and flattering as a postcard.
Years went by. The Light and the Shrub
had folded back away from the street
in front of them. The world was going to hell.
The world had gone to hell, but they were old friends
and they’d keep on doing what they’d always done.

Runaway Goat Cart is published by Hanging Loose Press. Check them out here: http://hangingloosepress.com/

Thomas Devaney. Photo: David Kelley

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