Sunday, January 13, 2013

Foreigner poems by Keith Holyoak

Dos Madres Press, 2012
Softbound, 94 pages, no price given

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Foreigner is poet-psychologist’s homage to classical Chinese poetry, accomplished by writing the poems in this volume in the style of the great Chinese poets who thrived during the dynastic years. In fact, if you have read some of those Chinese poets – generally shorter poems than many in the Holyoak collection, you will be gratified to feel very familiar with the style and phrasing.

Take, for example, Hong Maodan Fruit which, if one did not know better, would swear it was written hundreds of years ago:

Red spiked ball
with fearsome warrior visage,
dressed to kill,
for piercing, ripping, slicing—

Who would guess
your monstrous spines are tender,
your hidden heart
so fragrant, sweet, enticing?

Holyoak, according to material supplied by Dos Madres Press, particularly studied Li Po and Tu Fu. Their influence is seen in Hong Maodan Fruit and other poems such as

The Walk-through Aviary

So fine yet strong,
this net that tents the treetops,
tested by storms,
its mesh has not been torn.

Fruits are laid
on sheltered boughs for the birds;
the orange ibis
glides up to takes his turn.

Swans preen in the pond,
starlings call from their perches;
a pheasant hen
tends to her newly born.
Through filigree
I spot a pair of hawks
above the green hills,
wheeling in silent scorn.

And, of course, the title poem which is decidedly western – make that American— yet Chinese in thought and sensibility:


How I admire their simple greetings,
the way each fits the other
as surely as a cardigan
passed down to son from father,

Streams from their ancestral well
flowing through their tongues,
lapping at each other’s ears
and bubbling up in laughter;

How I admire their careless grace
and stance of pure belonging,
the tapestries they weave, eyes closed,
spun out of word and gesture—

But I am just an ungainly bird
staring mute from a bough,
stopping a day and a night before
I mount the sky to wander.

In addition to Keith Holyoak’s poetry, his son Jim, who studied Chinese art has illustrated this volume of poetry also in the Chinese style enhancing the ambience of a very readable and handsome volume of poetry.

Zvi A. Sesling
Reviewer for Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene
Author, King of the Jungle (Ibbetson Street Press)
Author, Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva Press)
Author, Fire Tongue (forthcoming, Cervena Barva Press)
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7

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