A personal vocabulary of strength and grace marks Hitchens’ (Sitting with Warrior, 2010) new book of poems.
Tied to the spirit world at every turn, this collection insists on the individual’s ability to feel humility as a creature inside a vast, complex world and to extend compassion to others. The poems take risks but rarely suffer from banality. Sometimes a set of overcrowded lines may be off-putting; for example, in “walking the barrens of belief / the wastelands of conjecture / and the deserts of assumption,” the speaker begins to disappear behind metaphor. Occasional all-caps words seem to shout more than necessary. Yet the poems’ search for essences, or the “attar” of wisdom, inspires an inclusive poetics that binds the knowledge of the Old Ones to contemporary experience. As a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam, the poet speaks powerfully about personal and national loss in a long, segmented poem called “Storm.” The recollected images are graphic and thoughtful, apparently pinned together from memories of combat and its difficult aftermath. The warrior ethos structures “I am Warrior,” in which cosmic, geographic, and climatological forces reflect and naturalize the warrior’s power. Wordplay further enriches the figure: “I am the scenting of scent, / the misting of mist, / the blooming of blooms, / the ripping of riptide / I am Warrior.” From “Medicine Bird,” the first poem in the collection, to “Thunderstruck,” the last, the true quest is for vision and awareness: “To be en-lightened—go into light, onto light— / is to be alive!” The search for knowledge may lead the narrator into a meditation on the injustices of poverty or the heights of romantic love. Physicality itself is depicted as an otherworldly experience, and the few poems about sex lift off the ground and celebrate a union of spirits as much as bodies. The attainment of insight is shown to equate to an orgasmic generosity, as “It’s in seeing poorly that we make poor lovers.” It’s an attractive philosophy: we must dare to love in order to live.
A meditative collection to read outside, with the wind and one’s breath commingling.