A Review of Cross Country: Poems of an Expatriate Southerner (Cranberry Tree Press, 2013)
Cross Country is a truly grand achievement, one well titled to capture its expansive scope and intimate generosity of insight. The vision embraced in and by these poems is one that gracefully encompasses not only the changing nature of our nation over the course of a lifetime but also, within this, the experience of nature itself as a unifying theme throughout. As if this were not enough, it is also (as the dedication so beautifully attests) a vision of the poet’s own life, rendered with gratitude, humor, and a sense of wonder.
Maybe the most American quality of Cross Country is its poetic voice, which is at once celebratory, angry, and hopeful. Invoking Mark Twain, Frank O’Hara, Wallace Stevens, and Jim Carroll in such very different poems goes far in suggesting how true this is. Another quintessentially American (in the best sense) trait of this book is its loving yet unsentimental attention to children and to animals in a way that only a poet of these United States, and perhaps particularly of the rural South, can quite manage.
Then, of course, there’s the sweeping geographic reach of Cross Country, doing homage to that of the nation of which it sings in poems from “Flight Pattern” and “A Mississippi Sojourn” to “Wasatch” and “Patchwork Lives.” And then, as if this were not enough, there is the poet’s democratic, Whitman-esque capacity to cast detailed portraits of a wide range of unique individuals in just a line or two, or even only a few words, in poems such as “A Woman Walking,” “This Morning,” and “And Yet.” All this without succumbing to so much as a trace of portentousness or didacticism! Marvelous, sir.
Last but surely not least, this is poetry of a scholar and a teacher of literature and writing, whose love of language, and whose ardor in sharing and engendering that love, shines in nearly every line. Personal favorites of mine are “An Aging Scholar,” “The Reader,” and “The Retirement Blues.”
I am thrilled for you in this triumph, my dear friend, and extend my congratulations too to Cranberry Tree Press (of Ontario, Canada) for its perceptiveness. Godspeed, poems and poet alike!
“The Expatriate Northerner”
(An anonymous reviewer who has asked me to help keep his name off the Internet; published author, poet, and teacher with a doctorate in education)