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Poetry Review    

 

 

Ecstatic in the Poison
by Andrew Hudgins
The Overlook Press, 2003
Hardcover, $24.95  (112 pages)
ISBN: 158567429X
 
 

Although Andrew Hudgins, now professor of English at Ohio State University, left his Alabama homeland years ago, he has never forgotten the Southern images that surrounded his Montgomery home. There is still a Southern playfulness, a breezy way of writing, like a light spring afternoon rain that cools down the earth and brings on a smell of fresh-cut grass and the hint of mint juleps. 

In “Southern Literature,” the poet pontificates proudly: “She hunched in the backseat and fired one Lucky off the one before. She talked about her good friend Bill. No one wrote like Bill anymore.” Filled with morose madness, words as real as his “worm’s eye view of life,” he hastens toward fantasy realism, speeding across the South. 

And then there’s “The Chinaberry Trees” that everybody remembers from childhood, when you climbed into the branches, fixing “our eyes on -- purple flowers hidden in the leaves and the leaves in darkness?” Amid the plant life “our success drove us, March nights, past barbecue and juke joints.” It’s the “gift of the chinaberry” and “a raw harmonica exploded, someone’s ridicule sucked backward through the instrument.” 

The proud poet wails a mean solo, as in “Arcadia” in which he writes unknowingly about my mother’s mysterious loss of a volume of classical mythology from her home on Arcadia Drive in Tuscaloosa in 1966. How minds work this way -- attached through a lost object that is more than a book “while I pursued the panicked wood nymphs, then fled with them in terror.” It is the thrill of discovery, when someone you know picks up on a tiny piece from The Tuscaloosa News and makes it into a poem. 

Andrew Hudgins dances his words across the landscape of language, flitting about “on the Burlington Street bridge in Iowa, watching a cottonwood. Spring floods had flushed it from the riverbank and trundled it downriver till it snagged.” Playfully, he tumbles through life with “Asleep with the Dog” as “she prances with joy, joy in the death-work, trembles with it, blood-joy, can’t contain it, cannot contain it, awe, and I dream I tremble her trembling, my brain bright with her fire.” And in “A Joke Walks into a Bar” I see the “ten-inch pun” that becomes the tired joke, the worn-out words of the prankster, who, like Ken Kesey, just keeps on ticking. The joke just keeps on and on, then “turned and walked toward home, and halfway home, alone, he started laughing.”

The poet Andrew Hudgins, raised on the streets of Montgomery, Alabama, where he was struck by image after image of a different land that produced such volumes as Saints and Strangers that became a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and After the Lost War, which won the Poetry Prize, and The Never-Ending that was a finalist for the National Book Award, has now surpassed his own meritorious writing with this latest volume, Ecstatic in the Poison.

 

Wayne Greenhaw
Southern Scribe Reviews

 

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