Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hugh Hennedy: A Pleasure in the Subject

I am spending time with Hugh Hennedy's VARIATIONS ON A NATURAL THEME: A LOON YEAR ( Hobblebush: New Hampshire, 2008). This is a handsome, slightly oversized, illustrated book of poems by a dedicated, perhaps obsessive, bird watcher, who loves his subject and has written a collection of masterly poems on it. Though there are a good number of poems in which Hennedy's persona is able to take his time waiting for and watching his subject, many of the poems use short unpunctuated lines and small stanzas to capture the quickness of the loons and mergansers he focuses on. Despite their seeming simplicity, which consists of brevity and repetition of mono and di-syllabic words and phrases, the poems are full of verbal music, suggestive phrasing and expressive rhythm. "All Soul's Morning" seems a good example of Hennedy's ability to capture the natural image, make it suffice in itself and evoke more than it is:

The loon bearing the light of early November
As if it were bearing other light
As if it were diving to find those under and bring

Them back up into the light unlike other
Light dives and dives and dives
Bearing November's light out of the light

If or when the reader remembers or learns that birds are traditional symbols of the poet and the phrase light bringer evokes Lucifer, or Prometheus (etymologically, Lucifer is made up of a latin word for light and the root of a verb meaning to carry or bring), the poem takes on large resonances. For me, it resonates with Christ's harrowing of hell.

Among the other features of his style worth noting is the use of exact or repetition with variation of opening lines to achieve formal closure. This technique and strategy gives the effect of a completed image and is an important reason why the poems are also painterly.

This is a book worth having and studying.

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