Monday, June 26, 2017



(North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA., 2011)

Lindy Hough's poetry, collected from most of a writing lifetime in Wild Horses, Wild Dreams, follows diverse, fascinating, strangely intersecting trails. Or maybe not so strangely – this is life, after all.

Categories are usually slippery and misleading – as Hough's poems often consciously remind us – but to speak in them anyway, her poetry turns over, in different ways and perspectives, roughly five general themes. Overarching her contemplative world is the nature and workings of the inmost human psyche. Developing within this are observations and evocations on personal experience and the planet; how the natural world reflects emotions and other kinds of feeling; the complex frictions of the interpersonal; and what is going on at the blurred edges between authenticity and inauthenticity.

These themes are too complicated to cover the least bit thoroughly in a brief review, but let me just  call attention to a couple of passages that make clear why these poems are well worth a look.

Memorable to me, for personal as well as aesthetic reasons, is a poem from the early 1970s, “To the Cape Elizabeth Ladies.” I first read it years ago and never forgot it, partly because I grew up in the Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Hough is talking about (and where she too lived for a time while married to a young anthropology professor whose ambitions (and hers) eventually outstripped academia (but not each other's)), and moreover, because it drives so forcefully, without being overbearing, into the veneers and inauthenticities of well-to-do suburbia. The scene is a ladies' reading group attended by the speaker of the poem. A welter of familiar emotions arise, including the boredom that led many of them to the living room club:

… I become more objective
as the hour wears on, everyone knitting, those who
are not knitting with their eyes straight ahead on
the reader. No one has read the book, except the one
reading from it.

There is the seemingly unbridgeable chasm between their money and the world – “We are tantalizing ourselves in this here book / … by reading about rich people” juxtaposed to:

War. Death. Vietnam. War. Death. Vietnam. Killing. …
Our country is discussing advertising
& its glamorous overworked world at this meeting of
bored Cape Elizabeth matrons while bombing
Haiphong Harbor.


Most of us have been in or around this kind of inauthenticity, I think, and yearned (some of us, anyway) like the speaker of this poem for any simple recognition of reality, let alone an authentic thought or expression of feeling. Unbeknownst to them, this poem is the Cape Elizabeth ladies' enduring positive contribution to culture.

Similarly, in “The Clairvoyant” we get a refreshing, if edgy, honesty about evasive inauthenticities in the world of psychic study and participation, which Hough has never been far from, and indeed occupied as a founding publisher, with her husband Richard Grossinger, of North Atlantic Books. The speaker of the poem grows disaffected during a lecture by a  clairvoyant: “His eyes rolling upwards? / Not a hint from the divine, / but him thinking where / to ramble next.”

But the dark of inauthenticity in life is inevitably offset by the light of the natural world, and Wild Horses has many uplifting, probing passages like these memorable lines from “Leaving California”:

Spiders speak hardly at all
just build their complicated webs everywhere
When too big a catch gets in and pulls the whole
thing down, they let the intruder lumber away,
Then lug the strands back up to the starting point
and start all over.

Whenever the people in my world seem to shine
with a certain brilliance
my world seems OK again

Directly stated, vivid, well-handled lines like these characterize most of the collection, from the book-length cycle “Psyche” (“Human geography – / beautiful particulars revealed / in the palm of a hand”), to the more recent “Maine Songs,” in which the theme of grappling with personal frictions is concisely detailed:

Picture rolling your anger up in a garland of roses
throwing it out to space,
then blowing it up

That's what Berkeley Psychic Institute recommends
It would slow you down, I say, considering
trying to picture how shifting gears
            enough to do this silly joyful act
might impede angry words
rolling from my mouth like cartwheels

Also offered are prose narratives on dreams and what might be waking visions, and their possible interpretations, both figurative and literal. “I know what I dream / I'm hungry for –” the title poem concludes late in the collection, “the dreams of wild horses.”

The personal and the political, the social and the psychic selves weave and blend richly together across this lifetime offering of plain-spoken, yet layered poetry.  Well worth the journey.


Dana Wilde's reviews of poetry and fiction by Maine writers appear monthly in the Off Radar column of the newspapers. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. His recent book is “Summer to Fall: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods.” <>

No comments:

Post a Comment