Poetry Book Review:
Fumbling In The Light
By Sidney Hall Jr.
Sidney Hall Jr. is a writer, poet, editor, and publisher. Several other books behind him, he has crafted a delightful reading in his latest book of poems, Fumbling In The Light.
There is no irony here. The poems reflect a relationship between light and dark, but there is far more light than darkness. In his foreword, Hall writes:
Goethe's famous dying phrase, "More light!" has been a puzzling inspiration to my life and to these poems. I have been trying for many years and in many places to understand the multiple kinds of light in the world and the multiple kinds of darkness, and the relationship of poetry to both.
The sixty-nine poems in Fumbling In The Light
are split up into five sections,
- Fumbling In The Light
- The Marginal Way
- The Great North Woods
- Near Nubble Light
- The Point Reyes Poems
and at ninety-nine pages makes the book full of rather short poems. But this is misleading as The Marginal Way is really one long poem divided into eleven sections, each serving as a separate verse, a vivid and extraordinary cantos for the 21st century.
Hall moves through the pastoral with classical ease while maintaining a spirit of modern enlightenment and passion. Whether observing the happiness of men in pickup trucks or gazing at the Pleiades, Hall journeys to the center of Man's heart by way of a tapestry of light sentiment beheavied by dark wisdom and practical language. There is balance in the imbalance, a subtle irony of insight from the center of complexity more simple than a fresh breeze.
Unlike most poetry books, Fumbling In The Light
delights in it own weaknesses without calamity. Sidney Hall's atypical risk taking is evident in his unselfconscious versatility. He moves quickly from concrete poems like "Clock", magnificently shaped like an old-fashioned grandfather clock, without relying on the form to make the poem, to long sectional narratives like "The Great North Woods", the only poem in the division by the same name. In each case he proves his poetic prowess.
Hall does seem preoccupied with colors. His biggest weakness, however, is in the shorter poems (2-3 line versicals) where he tries to combine overt minimalism with sharp wit. The latter succeeds, but he is much better when he writes at length where he can exploit his brevity and concise use of language. To highlight an instance of minimalism that is a bit overdone, I offer these lines from "The Lobsterman in the Waterskiing Boat":
Why is it
I don't trust him?
This may work as a sort of Post-Postmodern aphorism, but as poetry it doesn't walk in the door. On the other hand, Hall shows his brilliance in these lines, taken from "The Great North Woods":
Why now, when the ice is setting out so
deliberately, and comfort has turned her beautiful face
away from me? Now because
I wanted to sing, not of arms and men,
but of the opposite, of flowers pushing themselves
into the world. Of sunny peace, of anything but
killing, killers, killed, forgotten,
dying, dead, lying in the road, lying
everywhere, everywhere, even here
in the middle of these pine-needled knolls
all around this cabin, beside this pond
slowly coming to life, even here.
Many of the poems in Fumbling In The Light
are well-crafted literary confections. A few are a waste. But somewhere in the middle of the majority and minority are crystalline waves of perfect beauty, what Sam Hamill calls "revelations", the evidence of the poet fumbling in the light.
Order your copy of
Fumbling In The Light
by Sidney Hall Jr.