More and more, in my old age, I am drawn to poetry. It reminds me, somehow, of childhood, of eternal youth, of the fifth grade when I flatly refused to memorize a poem the teacher liked and earned an F for my obstinance. I’ve never forgotten that poem.
Peter Huggins is a poet I have read over and over in the last few years. His work resonates with a solid ring of truth. It has a bite to it that leaves teeth marks long after the reader’s eyes have left the page.
I heard him read recently from his latest work, Blue Angels, and it set me to thinking, as good poetry always does. At its best, poetry feeds the imagination of the listener or the reader. It sparks a flame, a desire, and your ears perk, and you say, “Hey! That’s it!”
“If I left now I could be in Tuscaloosa by eight. I could hear Earl J. play ‘White Bread’ in Lee’s Tomb. I could dust my hands with powder and shoot pool at the Chukker...”
I don’t like putting in those little slashes, indicating separate lines; let the reader figure it out in a review. Good poetry signifies itself. It flows, without every line being designated as such.
There’s a feeling of yesteryear in “Choctaw Point” and you can hear the wilderness in the words, “I wish I didn¹t need to master myself, like the Choctaw who beat the sun down on their drums to make sure it came up the next morning.”
His words have a natural cadence, a flow, turning into themselves, like the rhythms of Billy Collins, who could have written “Taps,” for all I know.
Mississippian by birth, teacher of English at Auburn, Peter Huggins has published in more than a hundred journals and anthologies. He’s paid his dues. His sophisticated sweet images like the “Red Mountain Cloggers do a double breakdance on a ball-shuffle change. Yet I am preoccupied with that wild man, John Brown, come back from the dead as a piano player in Alabama¹s Black Belt.”
And that “Blue Angels,” flying “like birds the way they turn and dive: kingfishers or herons scooping up fish in their long bills. I love to watch the angels fly in pairs -- one right side up and the other upside down. When they peel off from each other, their vapor trails diverging, I think of shooting stars, punctual comets or weird meteors, omens of something or other, I know people say.”
These are simple, wise words, words that vibrate with meaning, just as in “For the Woman Who Struck Randall Jarrell,” describing an ordinary day when she was hanging her wash in the “warm, apple-scented air,” then driving down the highway to pick up her son at school and “never saw the elegant-looking man who lunged into the road.”
it’s as heavy with meaning as “I tell William I ate Jesus that morning and ask him to hold the wrench for me,” in “Finding an Angel,” evoking “I know the angel is in there and he’s laughing his fool head off as he turns the engine over.”
Peter Huggins’s images are anchored in concrete that’s as vulnerable as sand, as hard as a brick and as eternal as the wind. They are bountiful products of the heart, like the “grenadine and bitters to purge the system and improve the soul,” in the poem called “Pomegranates.”
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