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Poetry Book Review:

Selected Poems 1967-2007

by Hudson Owen

selected poems 1967-2007 by hudson owenThe saddest thing in the world is to find a poet who doesn't live up to his full potential. Such is the case with Hudson Owen, also a playwright and essayist.

It's hard to identify just one strength of Owen's. He has several. He is as comfortable writing in meter as he is in free verse, but which he does better might be a matter of opinion. Personally, I think some of his finest lines are in meter. However, his tribute to Vladimir Mayakovsky, “The Hammers”, which is written after the free verse style of the latter, nails it on the head, as do several other poems of Owen's.

Still, he is just as likely to deliver lines that are flat and uninspiring.

Owen has several poems that are tributes, in one sense or another. He takes on such luminaries as W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, the aforementioned Mayakovsky, Leonardo da Vinci, William Butler Yeats, Vincent Van Gogh, Wilfred Owen, painter-artist James Wyeth, tennis great Jimmy Connors, and Cezanne. All of the tribute poems have their own strengths, but I wouldn't say any of them live up to the greatness of the personalities they praise.

But Owen has poems that could outlive his own name. Like Robert Frost, it might be tempting to call him a nature poet, though as was the case with Frost, most of his poems are about people. Even the ones that are not directly about people and tackle larger subjects like “What Is A Man?”, they are still about people in the larger sense. And this is perhaps what endears me to Owen. He is a humanitarian and it shows through in the way that he tackles his subjects. Never sentimental, but always empathetic.

From the haiku “Haiku (Spring)” to the unrhymed ditty “Spring In Confuteo” Owen is always sensitive to the language and music of his poems and that's another praiseworthy attribute.

Owen, however, is at his best when he is showing his romantic spirit. A few of his lines showcase a dry wit and those are welcome, as well. But nothing shows Owen's true soul like these lines from “Kissing Song”:
I walked a girl on Palmerston, On Palmerston, On Palmerston; I walked a girl on Palmerston, And kissed her at each light. Like a string of pearls they were; Each globe was like the moon. The night was fair And we were young In July it felt like June. She left me in the winter, But she left me with this smile; The memory of an evening Along a tree-lined avenue, A dreamy, summer aisle. I walked a girl on Palmerston, On Palmerston, On Palmerston; Years ago on Palmerston, And kissed her at each light.
It doesn't get any simpler, or better, than that. I wish Owen had more of these types of poems. He has a few and they are always a delight.

I'm not always friendly to lighter verse, but with Owen I think I can make an exception. It's those poems where he is light and airy, and even droll, that he shows his best work. Some of these poems include “Dream Ache”, “A Spacious Room”, “An Idea Of Samuel Morse”, “Valentine, Valentine”, “To A Book Sales Girl”, “Inventing Art”, “Laughing Man”, and “O Weaver Lady Of Subtle Hues”.

On the other hand, sometimes he hits a home run with a heavy verse or two as in “Epitaph Of An American Soldier Killed In A Foreign Adventure – 1967” and “The Firefighters Of Budapest.”

Is Hudson Owen a poet? Yes, but he's not living up to his best. It's a shame to see such a poet's worst verses outshining the best of the average and mediocre voices. Owen is capable of more and I'd like to see more. Even if in small glimpses.

Order your copy of

Selected Poems 1967-2007
by Hudson Owen


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