It is not often that someone across the ocean reads poems written here in Maine. But a friend, John Hooper, who liked my novel, recently read some of my poems. He had some lovely things to say. As with any writer, I hunger for someone who appreciates what I’m trying to do with my work. Here is what he wrote, which has a lot to say about what poetry is:
What is poetry, what does it mean, what does it do? These questions, and many more, can never really be answered by anyone other than yourself, never dictated, or lectured, they are personal choices and reactions to poetry, and that is the way that it should be.
Poetry is about observation and introspection, it can veer from wild passion to domestic bliss. It can be a vignette, or a sweeping vista. Poetry can be all to some, and nothing to others. It can be fragments of thought without context, or it can be concise and episodal.
To me, poetry is a means of producing focused awareness within myself, moments that can never really be addressed in the same manner or with the same success in any other form of written word, nor in screen, or dance, or song. Although all have merit, and all have a deep understanding of their own, there is not quite the same level of intimacy, of personal connection as there is with poetry.
Poetry brings us close to the joy and the tragedy of life. It gives us moments, scenes, vignettes, the building blocks of a life lived and in the process of living. It also gives us larger pictures of the mixed flow of life, from the turbulent central waters of the tumbling stream, to the quieter eddies at the edges, shadowed by the overhanging banks of the stream.
Both the smaller and the larger, both the turbulent and the quieter have merit, have importance, and have to be passed through and with, in order to live a life. To understand the harmony and balance between the ups and downs of life, of the celebrations and misfortunes, the love and the heartache, is to understand poetry, and is to live poetry.
The writer and poet Bruce Spang gives us this sense of harmony and balance in his poetry. Bruce introduces us to small slices of his life, slices that are rich, and deep, and valuable.
Sometimes his poems are tiny personalised vignettes, subtle moments of a daily life lived within the context and perspective of Bruce as an individual. The people that he has touched, the scenes that he has passed through, murmurs in the small hours between lovers and friends, all are picked out in loving detail. They are moments that are his treasures, they are what makes him who he has been, who is, and who he will be.
These are protected moments that sit within the borders of his poems. They are the glimpses of childhood, of early adulthood, of middle-life and beyond, all that is the stuff of life, that makes up the essence of what it is to be alive. They are the valued moments that Bruce holds dear, and moments that he understands are important to hold dear.
Life is all about these moments, the precious parcels of memory, and although they are personal to Bruce himself, because they deal with his life, they are also ones that he can feel confident in sharing with others. This is because we all have those same similar moments, individualised to ourselves of course, but with enough connections to mark the analogies that are ripe and relevant to our own individual lives.
We are all individuals, but we all share more than we imagine. We are together in those shared experiences, we have all loved and lost, we have all smiled and cried, we have all remembered and forgotten. It is perhaps the job of the poet to help remind us of those shared experiences, to be able to call up, through their personal experience, the experience of us all.
We are more than the individual we believe ourselves to be, we are part of the collected experience that is our connected lifelines. To not understand that shared experience is to not understand what the poet is trying to show us, and with that we fail to find the poet that is in us all.
Bruce has produced a range of beautifully poignant and telling poems, and my admiration goes out to him for his willingness to share his life experience with me in order for me to reflect on my own. What greater gift could one human being give to another, but to give a chance for personal reflection, and for that I give thanks to Bruce, and warmly recommend his books of poetry.
This review is based on two excellent poetry books by Bruce Spang, To the Promised Land Grocery, and Boy at the Screen Door. Both are available on Amazon, along with his phenomenal and beautifully written novelThe Deception of the Thrush.