Thursday, March 19, 2009

Andrew Hudgins

Andrew Hudgins's poetry collections include Ecstatic in the Poison and Saints & Strangers, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry; After the Lost War, which received the Poetry Prize; and The Never-Ending, a finalist for the National Book Award.

His latest book is Shut Up, You’re Fine!: Instructive Poetry for Very, Very Bad Children. Illustrated by the distinguished artist and graphic designer Barry Moser, Shut Up, You’re Fine! includes such heart-warming titles as “Playing Houth,” “The Thumping of the Bed,” “Two Starving Kids in Africa,” and “Daddy, Are We Meat?”

A few days ago I asked Hudgins what he was reading. His reply:
I’ve just finished Charles Sweetman’s Enterprise, Inc, a very funny book that satirizing white-color jobs. Imagine Dilbert as poetry, with more pathos in the humor. Betty Adcock’s Slantwise moves, slantwise, from Texas and back--through the rest of the South, into New York City after the bombing of the twin towers, and drops in on the Greek isles and the Andes. In one poem, Adcock meditates on being called “Betty” instead of “Elizabeth,” her given name:

After all

what could be odder than a woman poet from Texas?

Give her a trash name too and there’s no telling

what she might do, aiming for Parnassus

and the solar plexus.

James Allen Hall, in Now You’re the Enemy, embraces not just Texas but the concept of Texas in a startling and fascinating poem “Portrait of My Mother as the Republic of Texas.” Now You’re the Enemy abounds with an energy of imagination and driven wit. “Portrait of My Mother as the Republic of Texas” begins this way:

After my mother won independence in 1836,

she dysfunctioned as her own nation, passed laws,

erected monuments to men who would never again

be slaves to order and pain.

Remember the Alamo? That was my mother.

And it ends, tellingly, in the present moment:

Currently the Republic is facing lean times.

The former treasurer neglected May’s utilities,

refuses to return the funds. Pledge your support today.

My motherland is standing by

the rotary phone, waiting for your call.

Love her or leave her.

Mark Jarman’s Epistles (lively prose poems on theological issues, with St. Paul’s letters in the background) and Linda Gregerson’s Magnetic North (hard even to characterize a book this varied and smart) are absolutely terrific books that are both open on my chair right now. And I have to mention Maurice Manning’s Bucolics, which I’ve just reread. Every poem in the book is addressed to Boss with a God-like capital B. The book explores the relationship between perceived creature and perceived creator in terms of the symbiotic relationship between boss and worker. The worker depends on the boss and the work. But like any subordinate, even one who loves the work and wants to love his Boss, he is inclined toward insubordination and a studied and cagey irony when confronted by the boss’s whims, harshness, and infuriating silences.

In, uh, the bathroom, I’m reading Trying Times: Alabama Photographs, 1917-1945. It really brings back a sense of my parents’ and grandparents’ lives, and, more surprisingly, some of the pictures of schoolrooms, very like ones in which I served time, bring back a part of my life that I’d forgotten. And I just purely love the photo, taken in downtown Gadsden, of a man in shirtsleeves and tie, in midair on a pogo stick.

After dragging it out for a long time, luxuriating in having a terrific book to dip into at night before I fall asleep, I just finished R. F. Foster’s W. B. Yeats: A Life, Volume II: The Arch Poet, 1915-1939. I loved the first volume, which does the best job of any book I know of putting Yeats into his own time and making sense out of his psychic beliefs, which I still struggle to grasp. Like some of the reviewers of volume one, I’d wished for more detailed discussions of the poems. Foster clearly took the criticism to heart, and the second volume includes wonderful, perceptive critiques of the poems. Deeply researched and beautifully written, this is a book to cherish. I want to follow it up with Helen Vendler’s Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form, which is lying by the bed, smiling enticingly.

True Crime: An American Anthology by Harold Schechter. I’d meant to linger over this as a before-bed book to replace the Yeats biography, but I got so caught up in these brilliantly selected true stories that I raced through it. It’s a tough call as to whether this book is better than W. N. Roughead’s Classic Crimes, which I was enthralled by last year. But as a patriot, I have to say that American murders are better than Scottish murders. And I’m not just talking quantity over quality. When it comes to homicide, America offers a wider range of style and substance. Before reading this book, I did not realize that the Great Depression had brought on a fad of murderers lopping off legs, feet, and heads and leaving torsos around to be discovered.

Speaking of Scotland, I’m about three-quarters of the way through Ian Rankin’s Exit Music, a more than serviceable entry in Rankin’s Rebus series. With DI Rebus facing retirement, Exit Music purports to be the last in the series. It’s hard to imagine that such a popular and compelling character won’t find a way to resist retirement, as Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch did. Bosch is on my dresser, waiting for me inside The Brass Verdict. Or I may go with Jo Nesbø’s The Redbreast, which is also on the dresser. About a month ago I read Nesbø’s complex and thoughtful Nemesis, one of the best plotted thrillers I’ve read in years. He’s not quite as good at evoking Oslo as Rankin is Edinburgh or Connelly is L.A. but I have great hopes for him.
Read more about Shut Up, You’re Fine!: Instructive Poetry for Very, Very Bad Children at the publisher's website.

Andrew Hudgins's poems available online include "Walking a True Line," "Blur," "Day Job and Night Job," "In," and a zombie haiku.

--Marshal Zeringue