by Charles Coté
“Tell me again the legend” may be the task of all art, to retell the story of what it means to be human, to live in this life even when it’s for the birds. Who can face the future without looking back? We follow the trails others have taken, the ones we’ve traveled too, and pay close attention to the things we’ve seen and taken along the way, a “Buckeye” perhaps. So much emerges from so little – life passed on in three seeds per fruit. This is the language of lyric poetry, birdsong. We listen to hear our own voice and watch closely, each image distilled and in focus, to discover, as Ezra Pound so clearly said about poetry, the news that stays news.
This is the offering in James Scruton’s Exotics & Accidentals, winner of Grayson Books 2009 Chapbook Competition, what he calls “truth in a nutshell,” and that’s all in the first poem! From “the bur / and thistle of the everyday,” each poem that follows transforms “ordinary things” into gems, or from the last line of the poem “Ordinary Plenty,” each goes “further than they were,” as every good poem must do. This collection is exotic, feathers that flock together in the mind as equal in the heart – sound and sense, a place to nest in this migrant life, to find a voice and fly.
Here’s the title poem:
Exotics & Accidentals
These are your favorites,
the ones here on the off-chance,
each a bird of a different feather.
Even nested they never quite belong,
some note they can’t pick up
in local songs, their habitat re-mapped
beneath them. What strange migration
brings them here, what turn
of wing or weather?
Vagrants, stragglers, escaped
or astray, their names go on your list
as if the one place left to land.
Scruton “takes us by surprise,” to quote from “The Accidental Garden,” and asserts (see “Bird Stories”) that wonder is, “just the ordinary trying to break through.” While in no way religious, though certainly reverent, the collection ends with “Grace,” regardless of any rain, sleet, or snow that may fall, whether “on the just / and unjust alike, asked for or not, / believed in or doubted,” grace to meet a “need so great it must be holy...enough in any wind, any season.”
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