Thursday, March 11, 2010

Review of Tony Abbott's "New and Selected Poems"

New & Selected Poems (ISBN: 9780978934279)
by Anthony Abbott
Lorimer Press, 2009, 117 pages

I was crossing the causeway to Wrightsville Beach early in the morning on my way to the North Carolina Writers’ Network Fall Conference when suddenly and inexplicably, I began to cry. I’m a sensitive guy. I’ll admit that I cry pretty easily, but usually not without present and apparent cause. I pulled off to the side of road, looked into the sunrise and began to realize that the source of this uncontrolled outburst of emotion was the intimate resonance of the poems I had been reading over the past couple of days from Anthony Abbott’s New and Selected Poems.

This will not be the usual scholarly review of a new book of poems. I started it that way, but Abbott’s work needs little scholarly commentary. His are poems intended to be understood not just by critics and other poets, but by every reader. They are written in such a way, in fact, that long before the reader achieves a clear cognitive grasp of their meaning, he or she will already be under their emotional influence, will already understand and have been transported by the poems’ emotional center. And so, this will be my first (and perhaps only) poetic review of poetry and an expression of gratitude to Tony Abbott for helping me feel more fully the urgency of now.

Crossing the Causeway to Wrightsville Beach, November 2009

The cormorants line up above the causeway,
their morning posture of feeding as ancient as trees,
older than even the first iambic lines.
We drive beneath them and rarely take notice,
not even of the stickle-backed sky full of clouds
that has lingered beyond them longer than reckoning.
I pull off the road to write down
the line I pull off the road as if
it mattered even more than destinations,
than the timelessness of cormorants perched
above the road that I get these lines down
because – what? They have something vital to say?
They’re all I have in the face of eternity? They,
like young girls running, help fend off the darkness.

After Reading Tony Abbott

I can’t think of the date today,
not just what day it is, but even
what month. I write down October,
cross it out, December,
cross it out, finally come
to November’s season of lost leaves.
I’ve read my friend’s poems in which
he still mourns the loss of his daughter
some forty years in the past, the grief
as fresh in his mind as what he had
for breakfast mere moments ago.
The sun is bright before me, the road
blurred with runners, each one
carefully prepared for what they’ll face.
I think of my own daughter and how
she’ll grow up one day if she survives
the shattered windshield, aggression of microbes,
cruel hand of fate, and I’ll
no longer have to write on roadsides,
plenty of time and peace at home,
and nothing left to write about.


  1. If only I could write poetry that would do that for some reader! I mean yours as well as Tony Abbott's. "A Small Thing Like a Breath" is his book I'm familiar with. Maybe these poems strike me as they do (I'm tempted to use that wonderful old word "smite") because a year after a sudden dreadful loss, I'm still so raw. I prefer to think that it's because the poems say what so many of us need to have said and haven't been able to say for ourselves. Thank you both.

  2. I have to second JLC's comment "I prefer to think that it's because the poems say what so many of us need to have said and haven't been able to say for ourselves." Absolutely.

    There is something about passing over the bridges heading towards where I grew up that make me either tear up or want to pause...