- I am a writer, poet, and free-lance editor. Author of Lawmen of the Old West: The Good Guys and Lawmen of the Old West: The Bad Guys. I've had poems and stories in di*verse*city, Blood and Thunder, West View, The Enigmatist, and others. I love poetry but enjoy all forms of writing and editing. I'm the author of two books of poetry, Songs on the Prairie Wind dealing with the people, land and history of the rural Southwest and Voices of Christmas, the traditional Christmas story in free verse persona poems. I do contract editing of other writer's manuscripts. I'm the worst guitar player in the Common Folk band at Trinity Episcopal Church. I'm an imperfect husband to the perfect wife (she might read this sometime), father (great grown kids) and grandfather (they're great kids, too)
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Review of Black Dog and the Road
This will be a first. Not my first review but the first here and I hope the first of many. We should establish some ground rules. Understand that I wouldn't bother talking about a book that I thought had no value. If I thought it was trash, I wouldn't mention it at all. Now, if you should ask me to review your book and it never shows up, does that mean I thought it was worthless? No, not at all. There are a lot of reasons, it could have been scheduling, it might be because I don't feel qualified to speak to your sort of writing, maybe the writing was good but the subjects you wrote about weren't compelling to me. It could be that I didn't like it, too, but you will never know.
Now on to book number one. Because of the rules for reviewing on the internet (and I object only to the fact that print reviewers don't have the same requirements) I need to tell you that I know the publisher of The Black Dog and the Road. I consider that person a friend. In spite of that, I had to pay for my copy of the book and no other consideration was received.
Harry Calhoun's book, with the picture of the title's "Black Dog" on the front cover and a picture of some road on the back is a delight to read. The poems are well crafted free verse with attention to the concrete details of life. They lean much on that black dog but also deal with such diverse elements as the mirror the poet, "...just installed.." in the bathroom for his wife which leads to solitary thoughts of loss reflected in it and the green towels and the waiting spouse who, not understanding, still is patient with his need for solitude at a time of grief.
There are poems, (don't all poets write them?) about poetry. One, called, After sampling poetry magazines from an online listing (Calhoun's capitalization, or lack thereof) has a tone that reminds me somewhat of Billy Collins' poem Introduction to Poetry which comes from his frustration with graduate students trained to tear poems apart for meaning instead of enjoying them for what they are. In Calhoun's poem it's his frustration and rejection of what he reads on line and the reinforcement of his sense of what he is doing. They both hold on to a gentle sense of humor through their irritation.
A number of the poems in this book deal with the dying and death of the poet's father. There is little of the maudlin here, however, and much of the detail strikes me at times and places in my own thoughts, some helpful and some places I would rather not go. As in this from the poem called, Closing:
The closing on my father's house
is the nail in his coffin
but there is so much open...
There is so much to like in this book as well. There are a few things that I admire less. Calhoun has a habit of ending his poems with a single, separated line. If I counted right, in 42 out of 66 poems, the last line is separated from the last stanza. They are often short lines, occasionally only one word. Once in a while it worked for emphasis but not often. Occasionally it was tacked on to a poem that I felt was complete already as if to say, "Just in case you missed the point." Mostly, it just felt like an unnecessary separation and gave the sort of "bump" one feels when a poet seems to have missed the line break that was needed. A very minor complaint is the practice of only capitalizing the first word of the title. It bothered me in the reading but I found it really distracting when trying to write about them. This, of course, has nothing to do with the value of the poems but, there you go.
I particularly enjoyed the book ends of this work. The final poem, The tao of dogwalking is ostensibly about walking that "Black Dog" but is really more concerned with understanding how to move into the future with acceptance and comfort. The initial poem helps the reader understand the intent and effort of the author.
(poem used by permission of Diminuendo Press)
The craft, practised
you dream every day that you will nail it
like Christ to the cross
like the seam between legend and truth
sewn so that the seam is suddenly seamless
dream that you make it all make sense
and name it for the nonsense it is
and somewhere someone in a distant white tower
will strike a flint and light
a tiny sputtering fire
against an endless morning
mist and drizzle
at the flame
Harry Calhoun makes us care with The Black Dog and the Road.
The book is available from Diminuendo Press.
You can visit Calhoun's online Journal, Pig in a Poke
When you buy it, email them and tell them I sent you, maybe I'll get on the list for those free review copies.