“Hummingbird and Other New & Collected Poems”

James Breslin’s “Hummingbird and Other New & Collected Poems” is kind of a peculiar book. On the one hand, most of its 60 or so poems are phrased in a direct, disarming, almost blunt style that carries a kind of breezy, good-natured atmosphere. From just the sound of the sentences, I found myself thinking at first that there isn’t a mean bone in this guy’s body. “Behold the bold and naked slug / who shuns a shell she’d have to lug.”

But then there are the poems about his (the poet’s, presumably) mother and father. “I never knew just what would set you off. / You’d scream at me for what had seemed like hours. / You’d beat me with your shoe,” he says in “Mother’s Day 2018.” This shoe-beating comes up again in another poem, and in others, he expresses extremely ambivalent feelings about her at the very end of her life. His difficulties with his dad don’t seem to have been much smoother. The opening poem, “Snowflakes in July,” expresses poignant remorse about, essentially, the lifelong lost relationship of father and son.

Some of the poems intimate a deep-set ambivalence about who, exactly, God is and what he might, exactly, be up to. In “The Call — a Ghazal,” the speaker of the poem is wracked by doubt following some unspecified trouble and speaks directly to God, to no direct reply. “I worry you’ve abandoned me,” he says, but his nighttime imprecations elicit only aridity.

And yet even amid these troubled emotions, there’s a playfulness to the language, which is characterized in large part by hyper-direct speech and occasional turns of 19th century phrasing: “Ungrateful feline, do you intend to tame us / once again into submission?” he asks of an aggravating but beloved cat in “To Hawthorne.” And the collection is sprinkled with little haiku-like three-liners on nature, as well as a fair number of poems with old-style meter and rhyme schemes. The whole mix of dark subject matter and light verbal bounce suggests A.E. Housman could be lurking behind all this. But it’s just a guess.

Breslin, of Winslow, is a retired social worker. He published his first collection, “The Crow and other poems,” with North Country Press in 2013. “Hummingbird” is available from Moon Pie Press, likely Maine’s most prolific publisher of books of poetry.

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

 

 

 

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