One thing that has boggled Dave Morrison’s mind his whole writing life is the fact that he writes. The poems in his newest collection, “Refuge,” are largely devoted to trying to answer, with characteristic wonderment, the elemental questions that go with this perplexing need to make art. Why am I doing this, how is it happening, and where do these feelings of uncertainty come from all the time?

“I just want / to be able to say / I’m lonely, just / say it, it’s a / ghost in my / lungs”, opens “Just Let Me Say It” — this coming from a writer whose prologue to poetry was as a vocalist, guitarist and songwriter in accomplished rock and roll bands. And true to Morrison’s music, most of the book is made up of his characteristic short, plain-spoken lyrics, all of them engaging and charged with the rock and roll energy that infuses his creativity. A couple dozen additions to his collection of “Psalms,” published in 2017, are little Stephen Crane-like gems of their own.

But the most intriguing poem, to me, is an uncharacteristic longer narrative, “The Island in the Lake: A Lullaby.” It was written, he told me, because “I couldn’t sleep — my head was too packed with nonsense, lots of work-worry … I needed to tell myself a story, so I started imagining a sort of dream-haven, a quiet and peaceful place.” The result is the finely detailed story of canoeing to an island, setting up a cabin in the woods and occupying it with books, whiskey and observation. You might think of Thoreau going to the woods, or more accurately, maybe, of Jack Kerouac’s alter-ego character Jack Duluoz hiking out to the cabin in “Big Sur” to escape the torments of the city. I found these lines striking:

 

… Now more and

more you make this trip: park at the

turnout, put your canoe in the water,

load it, clip on the lights, and paddle

out to the little beach on the round island,

reminding you of a bite taken out of an

apple, more alone than you’ve ever been,

more yourself than you’ve ever been, a

hundred-year-old cabin you share with

indifferent ghosts.

 

The emotional turmoil for the speaker of Morrison’s poem seems truly calmed, not just camouflaged like Jack’s. “I wrote [Island in the Lake],” he told me, “thinking that maybe it could be the poetic version of a warm glass of milk for other troubled souls.” This is classic Morrison outward-think. The refuge in “Refuge” is poetry and music, which are parts of a cabin on an island to him.

Dave Morrison lives in Camden. Other recent collections of his poetry include “Welcome Homesick” and “Cancer Poems,” available at midcoast bookstores and online.

 

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first Thursday of each month. Contact Dana Wilde at [email protected]


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