“Second Oldest” by Blythe Davenport (Reviewed)


Second Oldest: A Poetic History of Philadelphia
by Blythe Davenport
published by PS Books, a division of Philadephia Stories Inc.

Blythe Davenport recently published her first book of poems, Second Oldest: A Poetic History of Philadelphia. It’s published by PS Books, a division of Philadelphia Stories, Inc., which is a real literary force both in our region and beyond.

Davenport’s debut volume is a series of poems about or responding to the city of Philadelphia. If you didn’t know about Kathy Change, you’ll learn about her here. You’ll hear a few anecdotes about Mario Lanza, as told as told by Alfredo Cocozza in “Alfredo Cocozza, 1959.” You get the idea.

Second Oldest
succeeds, in part, by using many points of view. The poet’s own voice is there, to be sure, but poems are also told from the views of others, real or imagined; personalities or portraits drawn from materials, records, observations.

In “Allegheny Avenue, 2007,” she’s a kid with a can of spray-paint.

My voice is wrong. My voice doesn’t waver
around these husks that were so big
when I was small.

In “Moving to Susannah’s, 1827,” she’s an elderly Betsy Ross.

My fingers did fine-work,
did rough burlap, did canvas,
stitched the colors of the nation:
blood, indigo, and blank newness.
My pins are tired. Let my daughter lift me up
as these bones drift away, through the city
streets and parks and off
to fight with God once more.
Let Mr. Satterthwaite dig my plot
and grin me into the grave;
a good son-in-law, but he never would
lend my girl even to her mother.

A series of connected poems is a pleasure to read, but by no means easy to write. Davenport mixes things up enough to keep us always interested. Different styles of poems are interspersed throughout. For instance, numerous poems are based on works of art or well-known landmarks. Some poems excavate bones from the ground, others have captured snippets of overheard conversations.

After reading this book, you may just see your own town or city a bit differently.
Reviewed by Valerie Fox


Posted as part of the Savvy Verse and Wit Dive into Poetry Challenge (Book 4)