Teaching a Man to Unstick His Tail
by Ralph Hamilton
"In the deep laws of space, other
realities are harder to avoid than
find---thus somewere the one
I love is loving me back"
from "Stephen Hawking in Love" by Ralph Hamilton
The poet is a magician who creates what at first glance may seem like strange creatures - these poems. But upon closer, deeper examination, savoring each word, one discovers the familiar: the meanings, behind the sounds, that relate to your life. That is what I experienced in reading the poems in Ralph Hamilton's collection Teaching a Man to Unstick His Tail.
I told myself: Concentrate. Concentrate really hard and turn off all the sounds. Then listen to the sound as you speak the words. Gradually the meaning rises from the page within and without the sounds--a part, and apart, as I thought about the poems like "The Mother, Broken". This poem has words that briefly built emotional depth as I read them. I could feel the depth inside me with each passing stanza. The moments that struck hardest were lines like "The heart is a clock" and later "The heart is a cloak". The movement of the poem grew within me to a point when the glass in the last stanza held "this dark wine". Moving moments occur in this and the other poems. Yet, there is a diversity among them and in some of the poems the words subtly grace the page strewn in patterns that have yet to yield to my analysis. In others the sound of the words bursts forth; and the words demand a stentorian reading as in "Exultate". In this poem the words exude an effervescence that justifies the title.
There are poems which require a meditative approach and these, perhaps, are those that I savored the most enjoying the words and the silence of thought that followed. One of these. "Idyll" is seemingly delicate in its approach to desire, yet the the words break into a rougher mode with the line "savage in those primal woods". What woods are these toward which the desire on the "cloudless night" draws the reader toward "the thing desired" yielding both a caress and the harshness of Nature? Further meditation is warranted.
The poet demonstrates the control that I admire in truly good poetry. In the penultimate poem of the collection, "What Sappho Knew", the two line stanzas mimic the fragmentary nature of Sappho's poetry (that we have). But the poem also is held together by a water motif that appears in the first stanza and is repeated with words like "glided, floating, spilling, coursed," and "oceans". With water appearing only after more than a third of the poem has floated by. Would Sappho know life as well as water? The appearance of a child and infant near the end suggests that she does.
This is a collection of poems that vary in shape and style, sonnets and a prose poem, some with words that crawl about the page and others with words that jump off the page. It is thus a collection that was both exciting and enjoyable. I enjoyed the music of the poetry and found the challenge exciting even when poems did not share their meaning immediately. I look forward to returning to see what more these poems have to share.
Teaching a Man to Unstick His Tail by Ralph Hamilton. Sibling Rivalry Press, Little Rock. 2015