Revolt of the Crash-Test Dummies by Jim Daniels

Waiting in the Pews

by Laurel Milburn

Jim Daniels' Revolt of the Crash-Test Dummies was published in April of 2007 by Eastern Washington University. Though EWU no longer publishes, with some finagling, you can purchase the book (using the link above) from Carnegie Mellon University, which acquired EWU's stock.

Revolt of the Crash-Test Dummies opens with intoxicating energy and enthusiasm for the ordinary. The first poem pulled me into this exciting world of “the missionary position,” “the complete stop / at the STOP sign,” “the canned vegetables,” and “the fast-food drive-thru window.” This voice wanders through section one, revealing moments of expository exploration within the framework of the poems.

Once immersed in section two, I found myself trusting and ready for the flashback in “Sizing the Ring” where I effortlessly followed the speaker into a seventh-grade memory, all the while accepting the profundity of the raw details. Daniels composes a feeling of American nostalgia that left me restless, waiting in the pews of a church, wondering whether or not I will end up in hell.

Section three brings with it an experience-driven wisdom with which the speaker analyzes and understands the past. This perspective left me breathlessly ready to listen while the speaker recalls in “Wonder”:

…I hold up my three fingers

to recite the old scout oath. I make the sign

of the cross and recite the two prayers

I remember. What I remember is

you weren’t supposed to chew,

Just swallow and take it on faith.

In many ways this faithful swallowing is coming back up now for the speaker to chew and reanalyze with a perspective of wisdom. It’s a chance to find the ironic, the tragic, and the misunderstood. It is the essence of revolt for the crash-test dummies who receive the opportunity (either personally or voyeuristically) to come back with a new understanding.

Daniels completes his collection in section four, where the speaker watches his children interact with the world. There is a certain clarity that these poems bring to express the children’s understanding of the world around them. In “Illuminating the Saints,” the speaker weaves between the heartbreaking realization of finitude and innocent wonder. In short, this book is a landslide of precision and recollection. Take for instance, “During thunderstorms, my son tapes notes / to the glass, asking the rain to stop.”