Architecture of loss and loneliness

10/05/2008 12:00 AM

10/05/2008 12:39 PM

BEFORE THE LIGHT CHANGES

By Irene Blair Honeycutt. Main Street Rag. 102 pages, $14 paperback.

THE FRACTURED WORLD

By Scott Owens. Main Street Rag. 80pages. $14 paperback.

Two poets. Two takes.

These poems by Irene Honeycutt, now retired from her long tenure as a Central Piedmont writing professor, delve into the nature of loss and absence. The poems by Scott Owens, who teaches writing at Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory, explore alienation and loneliness.

Interesting, how poets are at once architects, constructing a palpable world, and also coroners, using words to dissect and examine.

The poet in “Before the Light Changes” has built a house of tangibles – two brothers – one dead, one ill, nurses, stretchers; a mother, a step-grandfather, childhood siblings; friends (several aging into senescence); dogs, plants, a frog, an alligator, snakes, hummingbirds, a javelina, night herons.

But light is the image she uses to make sense of that world. The “ … splash of sunlight / alive at an open gate … ” spells energy, possibility, fullness. Whereas “Shadows playing origami / on your shirt / as you sit cradled in an alder, / leaning away from the path … ” signal a slow but inevitable absence.

The poet in “The Fractured World” builds a palpable world of stadiums, cellars, bathrooms, closets, stairwells, guns, hand grenades, corpses, KFC, Winn-Dixie, “nighthawks dancing in and out of darkness.”

Nothing pretty. But read between the lines, and you see Owens-the-poet making sense of a senseless, fractured world.

The world, he implies in “The Man in the Bottle,” will try to constrict you until you are “holding everything in, / tasting nothing / but your own skin.”

And in the ironic “They,” it's the world's smug shallowness that will do us in: “They're the ones smiling, saying, ‘Have a nice day,' remembering to extend a hand.” And further on, “If they weren't so dangerous / you'd think they were funny.”

In “No,” the poet is aware that our own resistance keeps us and our world fractured. The No is “the one that calls itself self-/control, but smells more like fear.”

Both poets are aware of the struggle inherent in the human condition.

In “The Hummingbirds Have Left for Costa Rica,” Honeycutt echoes our own longing to live on, mindful of the hummingbirds' “deep will to avert winter.”

And in “Sunday Afternoon, Atlanta Fulton County Stadium,” Owens' narrator nails our own hunger to flee aloneness, when he says he comes to the stadium “ … for the sounds, / the crack of the bat, shouts / of the vendors, the thousand conversations.”

Which are two reasons we come to poetry – both to avert our own inevitable winter and to hear “the crack of the bat” in their words.

Two vibrant poets – singing out their longings – and two vital collections.

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