Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wild Horses, Wild Dreams – Lindy Hough

Wild Horses, Wild Dreams collects the poetry of Lindy Hough, founder of the magazine Io and North Atlantic Books.  The poems range from 1971 to 2010, so we get the opportunity to look at an entire writing career.  In her preface, Hough mentions Ezra Pound, H.D. and William Carlos Williams as influences.  I do see the similarities, to H.D. in her early work and Williams in the later.  Here I think Hough comes up short for the same reason that Williams does.  Her poetry is often simply the stuff of everyday observation.  I am reminded of someone—not necessarily a poet—chatting to me about what she has been up to since I last saw her.  Her poetry is better than Williams’s, and we are spared notes left on refrigerators and “Dude, that wheelbarrow is so cool,” but I often found myself waiting for the poetry to start. Her titular piece, for instance, begins

     Jacqueline moved onto land
     where a heard of horses already lived

     It became obvious they were no one’s,
     had drifted up and down this coast
     for years, a bother to many.
     They were not a bother to her.

She continues for pages with the same MO: chatting about the horses.

     They stick around near the water’s edge.
     J’s gotten good fences so they don’t straggle
     down onto the highway, get themselves killed,
     her sued.

     They big eyes are serious.  They look at you with no
     guile.  That’s why she loves them.

A few poems degenerates into polemics, which again I can best imagine a friend delivering over coffee:

     Because the gun lobby is unopposed
     Because Charlton Heston played Moses,
     standing on the mountain with the flowing beard,
     arms uplifted, holding the Ten Commandments
     People see him as The God of Guns
     like his tough western persona which
     gives authority to the concept of a citizen’s
     “right to bear arms”, an idea left over from 1776.
     They contribute to the NRA
     thinking only of defending themselves.
     We’re the only industrialized nation
     in the world with such a lack of
     gun control.  Most European countries
     don’t allow guns in their borders.

That last stanza particularly seems to escape any definition as “poetry”.

Nevertheless, Hough gets much more lyrical when she gets less political.  Her earlier poems have a kind of eerie dreaminess at times:

     What she already knows
     is a rich tangle
     of possibility.

     Threading through
     the lover’s hair,
     knot by knot,

     living with him to unravel
     the sequel to the mermaids.
     Not always searching.

One poem I particularly enjoyed was “Seeing: To the Mailmen”, which I’ll put here in its entirety.  I felt from this poem a sense of structure, image, complex metaphor and focus.

     I would wish, growing up
     in a round dance
     that if I made a picture
     you would not dilute, ex-
     tend, wash further
     the colors beyond the border.

     You would stop the eye there
     and he sense given to the eye
     by the eye; the colors therein
     and not extend.

     Even so, it would not be enough.
     The picture would have to sing, not only
     be seen; as an ocean or a far off
     coyote is heard, the eye seeing
     and the ear listening, breath & pulse
     of the joy of living pushing out
     though the chest and throat
     to the world.  Keep coyote
     particularly in mind: full white chest,
     head thrown back to the moon, his howl
     a statement to all and the heavens—
     outlasting Geronimo, the lion, the red wolf—
     I am here.  Know that I still exist.

     A decent wish.  Hoping for
     a decent pleasure,
     for the seer, whether watching
     or hearing or reading,
     loving or unloving.

As I was reading this collection, thinking about Hough’s style and topics, I came across one poem I found fascinating because it considers exactly this.  In “The Poet’s Métier” Hough asks what her style might be called.  She responds, “I am a cat on a fence…  There’s a skittering between my eyelids, a sort of imbalance only righted walking very carefully along a fence, & then down another, and another.”  In the poem she wonders how to classify her style, and whether her uncertainty indicates that “it engages me but no one else.”  Her conclusion: “I’d rather be a cat, walking successive winding fences, silent and moonstruck.”

I find this an apt metaphor, and salute her for her candor.  Her poems do wander like a cat on a fence, and like a cat, no plan or purpose is necessary other than to be a cat.  If you feel compelled to follow a cat on its perambulations, this collection may well be for you.

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