Extended Review: Sonja James

Poems in ‘Cross Country’ Rooted in The Concrete
December 26, 2013
By Sonja James – Special to The Journal , journal-news.net

“Cross Country: Poems of an Expatriate Southerner” by Douglas M. Tedards (Cranberry Tree Press, 2013, $14.95)

In this series of meditative narratives, Tedards reflects on topics as diverse as his childhood in South Carolina, his grandfather, the dreams he has at night, strangers walking, nature, playing golf, love, experiences with reading certain books, and his life as a university professor in California. There is even a poem in memory of Robert F. Kennedy. Because the book covers so many aspects of the poet’s life, each and every poem is a unique and interesting experience for the reader.

The poems are also intriguing because Tedards roots each poem in concrete imagery. His images are highly visual and therefore easy for us to imagine. For example, in “Hush Puppy,” a meditation on the death of a mother dog in winter, Tedards prepares us for the loss of the dog with a graphic description of the winter landscape: “Hollow fish scales of ice/dripping endlessly from corn sheds/snow covered.” He also sets the tone of the poem when he describes winter’s barren fields as “broom straw fields once green.” In this visual poem, we see the sheds and the bleak field which prepare us for the death of the dog that “bring[s] sad times/to pups and me.”

Memories of the poet’s boyhood shape poems such as “A Boy’s Barn” and “The Gist of It.” In “A Boy’s Barn,” the poet recalls a barn from his childhood which no longer exists: “That old barn came down/for scrap wood years ago.” In “The Gist of It,” the poet paints a vivid portrait of his grandfather: “On that hill many years ago/I listened to my grandfather,/who taught me to witness the coming and going/of clouds in summer.”
In “The Edge,” Tedards attempts to unravel the meaning of a dream he had the previous night:

I fell off the edge
of time last night,
down through
the years
past two wives,
four children,
and all there is or has been in my life.

In a subsequent poem, “A Woman Walking,” Tedards describes a strange woman who walks past his window while he is reading. This poem affirms that Tedards is a keen observer of all that is around him. He is constantly alert and keeps his mind open to even the most casual stimulus such as a stranger walking past him. Poems such as “A Woman Walking” are juxtaposed with poems based on the most intimate moments of his own lived existence.
In “Evening Air,” Tedards writes an elegant poem about nature. From a distance, a hawk observes a yellow butterfly. As the hawk descends, Tedards uses the moment to comment on the human hunger for beauty and how the hawk does not share this desire.

He then shifts modes and presents us with a love poem, “Three Ways of Looking: A Kind of Love Poem.” The poem concludes with a resounding affirmation: “But looking at you/and me/together/that’s an open road to happiness.” In “Still Smiling: A Kind of Elegy,” Tedards reflects on the possibility of immortality and concludes that he will live on “in the lives of family and friends/who may remember me/through all their days and nights.”

The book concludes with the return to another childhood memory. As the final poem in the volume, “Christmas Day, 1958,” is an account of how Tedards received a 12-gauge Remington for a Christmas present. He tenderly recalls how excited he was on that Christmas Day and how he loaded the Remington with #8 shells to try it.

By returning to the theme of boyhood, Tedards as poet has come full circle. “Cross Country: Poems of an Expatriate Southerner” is a volume which as a whole affirms the dignity and worth to be found in serious self-reflection. The days and nights of one person’s life hold truths of great profundity for all of us and teach us different ways to look at our own selves. Tedards’ poetry is an energetic treatise on the meaning of life.

— Sonja James is the author of “Baiting the Hook” (the Bunny & the Crocodile Press, 1999), “Children of the Moon” (Argonne House Press, 2004), and “Calling Old Ghosts to Supper” (Finishing Line Press, 2013).

Poets are invited to submit recent books for review consideration.
Contact Sonja James at sonjajames@earthlink.net.

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