Saturday, September 17, 2005



Poems out of the ordinary
By Philip E. Burnham, Jr.
63 pages
Ibbetson Street Press

One of my mentor poets told me as a precautionary note, that writing a poem is a thankless task. He wasn’t bitter about creating beauty, just realistic about how much the world might care. In Philip Burnham's book, "Housekeeping" –"Poems of the Ordinary" we find a poet who is exquisitely thankful for the world and the poetry of it.
For an elegiac book, it is full of warmth and cheer. For a cheerful book, it is remarkably profound about loss, but never tragic. And for a book about the ordinary, Burnham exerts himself to write in extra--ordinary ways.
Thought I tend to like the jagged and surreal, I was easily taken up by the consistently elegant tone of Burnham’s poems. His rhyme schemes and imagery, if sometimes conventional, never fail to inspire. In "How Much Love is There in Laundry?" his last stanza reads:
"With affectionate, gentle knowing hands
Turning each article a careful smooth,
Arranged, drawered away in bureau stands
For naked morning to disclose as love."
There is a lovely ghost in this collection, Burnham’s lost wife, and much of his tribute to the ordinary and to the ethereal is channeled by her memory:
"But you songs for children and for love were
never recorded to be replayed when
You were out of touch, time; their echoes bear
On my hearing as ocean waves wear through
The icy gates of great December’s end
And winter’s opening, songs whisper in
My heart’s good ear where I may often spend
Time’s purse to recall you as I listen."
--Voices of the Dead
We hear inflections of Shakespeare in a poem like this and are captivated.
Perhaps my favorite poem is called, "Birthday Greetings III" which takes its melody from a Mexican Christmas Carol, "Fire in the snow and snow in the fire."
Where I will light small celebratory fire
Candles for you, each one a measure of desire
To hold you, to have kept you still closer to me
So I might not know you within the contraries
You are, fire in the snow, snow in the fire,
You melt, you cool my heart as each season requires
My presence here before some final letting go
Of earth, snow in the fire, fire in the snow."
In his world, there are divine powers in nature and an underlying sense of God. Being a true Boston poet, and on a less serious note, Burnham challenges himself to write about Baseball and God. It reminds me that wonderful Calvinist preacher who described how the world was made with bowling alleys and well, sundry things exalted and mundane I can’t now recall:
"And on the ninth day, God
in his infinite playfulness
Grass green grass, sky blue sky,
Separated the infield from the outfield,
Formed a skin of clay,
Assigned bases of safety
On cardinal points of the compass
Circling the mountain of deliverance,
Fashioned a wandering moon
From a horse, string and a gum tree,
Tempered weapons of ash,
Made gloves from the golden skin of sacrificial bulls,
Set stars alight in the Milky Way,
Divided the descendents of Cain and Abel into contenders,
Declared time out, time in stepped back,
And thundered over all of creation:
"Play Ball"
Yes, indeed. This is a masterful collection for which we should be very thankful.

Lo Galluccio Lo Galluccio is the poetry editor of the Cambridge Alewife. Her work has appeared in Ibbetson
Street, Lungfull, The Somerville News and many others.

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