Author: Douglas More

Publisher: Broken Turtle Books

ISBN:  978-0-9788451-4-8

Author: George Rhoades

Publisher: Outskirts Press

ISBN: 978-1-4327-8499-7

I’ll admit at the very beginning that I am a great lover of all kinds of poetry, traditional and otherwise; however, I do insist on two things: first, that the subject matter the poet chooses for each of his individual pieces is ‘poem-worthy’, so to speak; that is the subject matter should  be of such significance that the piece will stand above the plain and the mundane.

Secondly, I expect to read in each of the poems about common things described in an uncommon way.

These two collections, the subjects of this review, Douglas Morea’s Letters to You and George Rhoades’s Along the Chisholm Trail contain, what one calls these days, ‘free verse poems.’

That is the poems have no regular rhyme scheme or rhythmic structure. This is quite acceptable, but there is a danger with this kind of free expression in that the end result might not be a poem at all but rather a prose passage composed of lines of irregular length.

Let me use a well known free verse, poetic example. Here is Carl Sandburg’s ‘Fog’.

“The fog comes/on little cat feet./It sits looking/over harbor and city/on silent haunches/and then moves on.”

Now if this poem were written in prose it might read: ‘Fog advances slowly, softly, enveloping all in its path and then moves silently on.’ The question is this: what makes the poem a poem and the prose passage a paragraph? Is the subject ‘ poem worthy’?

Living by the ocean, as I do, and experiencing ‘fog’ it all its various mysterious guises, I would have to agree on this count. But what, one must ask, makes Sandburg’s rendition a poem and not just a prose paragraph? To answer this question, one should read the poem aloud adhering strictly to Sandburg’s punctuation,noticing the use of personification. The resulting musicality and originality of expression create a poetic elegance rather than just a simple unwieldy assertion. A final caution, subjectivity plays a prime role in literary criticism too; thus must I leave it to the reader to be the final judge of the success or failure of the two collections under consideration.

Douglas Morea’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Dreamstreets, and The Mickle Street Review which awarded him the Doris Kellogg Neale Prize in 1984. He was born in New York City and now lives in Delaware.
George Rhoades was born on a farm in Oklahoma where he now lives on his hay farm. He  has been a soldier, printer, rancher, reporter/editor, and journalism professor.

Douglas Morea’s poems, or the ‘Letters’ of the collection title, are dedicated to a life long friend and are prefaced by an prose ‘Preamble’, an Apology really, wherein the author admonishes past reviewers for their criticism and warns us all that his work is his own business and no one else’s; he also explains that ‘It’s not from laziness that I write in free verse.’ While I believe that work placed in the public domain is everybody’s business, I also believe that there is nothing lazy about people who write good free verse,a far more difficult exercise than the more traditional forms of poetic expression, and there are some very good poems in this book. One of the best is the opening poem,

‘Ah Sunflower’:
You are blooming even above the tassels of my corn
sun shining in the sun
But you are not weary of time.
Only I am,
having lost count of my own steps.
Ah sunflower, innocent of your own becoming,
I am your God, planter of the seed that I bore you, guardian now, and
collector of your seed in turn.
my hands of clay
humble me before you,
break my heart in weakness before your glory.
When the tears of Adam and Eve washed Eden from their eyes,
was it their God,
more than they, who walked out
into the wilderness?

George Rhoades offers readers a collection of ‘cowboy poems’ in Along the Chisholm Trail and Other Poems, for example, ‘In Troubled Times’ which begins: “In troubled times/Like these today/We need to remember/The Cowboy Way....” Cowboy poetry grew out of a tradition of extemporaneous composition carried on by workers on cattle drives and ranches. The following lines are from LaVerna Johnson's poem ‘Homestead’, which exhibits traditional cowboy poetry features:

We hear calls of cattle lowing, voices carry on the breeze

As it wanders down the canyon, then meanders through the trees.

In addition to cowboy poems George Rhoades also offers some short lyric pieces laced with a bit of wry humour: In ‘Love Is Blind,’ for example: Love is blind/And cannot see/Usually/Lust is blind/And cannot see/Temporarily. Or ‘Morality’: Morality/Hypocrisy/Close as they can be./Whose morality?/Whose hypocrisy?/”Who” is the key frequently.

I encourage readers to give poetry a try if, like so many, you automatically shun the poetry section of your local bookstore. Reading poetry for pleasure is often thought of as old fashioned, a pastime from another century, a time before radio and TV, a quieter time, less cluttered and noisy. People I talk to about poetry often tell me that they don’t read poems because i the activity reminds them of schooldays, and being forced to memorize, and being chastised and humiliated for one’s forgetfulness. I say, give it a try.You might find an unexpected peace as a result. I often turn to Lord Wavell’s, Other Men’s Flowers, a private collection of the great Field Marshall’s favourite poems published in 1944 dedicated to  his son: ‘who shares my love for poetry but thinks his father’s taste a bit old fashioned.’ If you are willing to take the leap, try the books I’ve reviewed here. You won’t like all the poems but you will like some and that’s a start towards what might be for you a new source of reading pleasure.

Follow Here To Purchase Along the Chisholm Trail and Other Poems

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