Blue Angels. Peter Huggins. River City Publishing. Montgomery, Alabama. 2001.
Today's book of poetry is going back in time today. River City Publishing from Montgomery, Alabama, sent us a herd of beautiful hardcover poetry titles and even though some of them were published a few years ago they are all new to me and I suspect they will be new to most of you as well.
Randall Jarrell is one of the first poets I can remember reading, his poem, "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" still rattles around in the cage that passes for my head and I read that poem over forty years ago. So it was a multi-faceted pleasure/surprise to come across him roaming around in Peter Huggins Blue Angels.
For the Woman Who Struck
It must have been an ordinary fall day
For her. She hung
On the line to dry in that warm,
Apple-scented air. Humming Telemann,
She swept the leaves off her porch,
Knowing she'd have to sweep it again
Before her day was through. No matter.
Her maple would be in glory soon.
She had the pleasure of its change.
What were a few leaves to her.
She had to pick up her son at school,
Then go to the grocery on the way home.
Traffic was heavy on the Chapel Hill
By-pass. She never saw the elegant-
Looking man who lunged into the road.
In all that noise she heard
The terrible thud of his body
Striking her car. She didn't want to,
But she screamed at him,
Lying on the road like the last
Prim leaf on her sugar maple.
I hear Auden. I hear France. I hear you dancing in your underpants. Today's book of poetry felt very much at home in Huggins world. These poems are all built like old houses designed for the long haul, built to last.
A horse in a swimming pool is an image that is almost surreal except that now, in the Internet Age, we can all watch video of bears, moose or monkeys in someones backyard pool at whim. Huggins gives us more than any video, he gives us a moment of horse-thought and then his understanding and gentle compassion. Today's book of poetry is a big fan of kindness and that is a feeling that prevails in Blue Angels. Poems celebrating kindness are thin on the ground these days but they are always welcome here.
A bad thunderstorm
Spooked my neighbor's
Horse last night.
This morning my neighbor
Found her in his swimming pool.
She looked surprised to be there.
Her tail floated behind her
Like a bed of kelp. When
I asked him how he was going
To get her out,
He walked into the pool,
Put blinders and a bridled on her,
Then led her up the steps
Of the shallow end.
She bunched the muscles
In her back and flicked her tail.
I wondered at the fear
That drove her into the pool.
I wondered at my neighbor's
Of her fear and her calm
As he led her back
To her stall in the barn.
I wondered that I thought
She looked like a prisoner
Going to execution,
With the hope and serene
Trust of the faithful.
Today's book of poetry was up in the air about today's third poem. Two worthy contenders. One, a poem about a child's bedtime monsters and the other about the needs of the dead. There was much discussion at this morning's read. Milo, our head tech, read both poems to us, twice. Then Kathryn, our new intern, read them again. One of the things Today's book of poetry liked about the poems in Blue Angels was their elasticity, their ability to stretch in several directions at once. In the end our morning reading circle settled on 'monsters' - because who doesn't like those.
As soon as I tell my nephew
He doesn't have to worry about
Water buffalo men in Louisiana,
I know I'm in trouble.
He asks me if he has to worry
About them in Mississippi
Or in North Carolina. I tell him
He doesn't have to worry about them
At all. They don't exist, I say.
He doesn't believe me and I know
I've made a monster to trouble
His sleep. My uncle made
One to trouble my sleep when he said
I shouldn't go swimming at night.
The alligators, he said, would mistake
Me for a fish and eat me.
Try listening to that story
When you're five years old, lying
Flat on the floor, and you think
Water's sucking the pilings
Of your house out from under you.
Go swimming during the day or night
Without thinking your body's not
A sweet morsel of trout or bass
To a hungry jaw-heavy alligator.
Try not to think of white knights
Galloping through your uncle's bloodstream.
They are too late to save him.
Dragons, breathing fire
Into the sweet tissue of his lungs,
Take him down to pure clean bone.
Reading Peter Huggins's Blue Angels is a journey to Alabama, a meditation on living well, musings on vapour trails and some good hard lessons on how to be a good person. In Today's book of poetry world that is a full dance card.
Peter Huggins has published five books of poetry. Before Blue Angels there was Hard Facts. Since publishing Blue Angels Huggins has followed with Necessary Acts, South and Audubon's Engraver.
ABOUT THE AUTHORPeter Huggins is the author of five books of poems, Audubon's Engraver (Solomon & George Publishers, 2015), South (Solomon & George Publishers, 2013), Necessary Acts, Blue Angels, (both from River City Publishing, 2004 and 2001), and Hard Facts (Livingston Press, 1998). South was shortlisted in 2014 for the International Rubery Book Award. He has published over 300 poems in many journals and magazines, and was awarded a literature fellowship in poetry from the Alabama State Council on the Arts in 2006.In the Company of Owls, a middle grade novel, appeared from NewSouth/Junebug Books in 2008. In addition, he has published a picture book, Trosclair and the Alligator (Star Bright Books, 2006), which has appeared on the PBS show Between the Lions, received a Mom's Choice Award, and been selected as a best book by the Bank Street College of Education and by the CCBC at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He teaches in the English Department at Auburn University, and he and his wife live in Auburn, Alabama.
BLURBS"These poems variously marvel at, meditate on, and grieve over significant moments in life. In clear, straightforward, but often surprising lines, Peter Huggins offers his take on a world in which loss and salvation are next-door neighbors, and angels turn up in the strangest places."
- Jennifer Horne
"Peter Huggins is a rarity - a poet who writes with the clarity of a silver bell. The poems of his new collection allow the reader to see through their surfaces, to go beyond the simplicities, the sweetness and light, to the dark matter of the mind and heart. This book demonstrates a generosity of spirit hardly to be found in today's serious poetry."
- Thomas Rabbitt
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