ECSTATIC IN THE POISON
Known for his work in narrative verse, Hudgins (After the Lost War) mixes taut anecdotes and autobiography with more lyrical work in this sixth effort. The poems continue his attention to middle- and working-class American life, his interest in biblical allegory, and his command of traditional rhyming forms. The memorable title poem recalls kids playing in fog left by DDT trucks; "Come to Harm" considers comedy, grief at the death of parents and interstate car trips: "We sang. We laughed. She died. I wept." Both poems, like almost half the book, skillfully use Hudgins' oft-employed ballad- or hymn-based quatrains and demotic, casual American diction. Hudgins also weaves in Homeric or otherwise archaic effects, while a series of poems about burials and divine retributions (an ancient Russian king; the story of Lot in Sodom) achieve a grim effectiveness that recalls Tom Sleigh's recent work. A third group of poems (scattered throughout the volume) seek lighter topics or tones: "A Joke Walks into a Bar" seeks, and finds, the kind of comic parable associated with Stephen Dobyns, or even Billy Collins, though several poems explicitly about the writing of poetry or (worse) about poetry workshops and classes, offer overfamiliar sentiments. More often, Hudgins participates in traditions of midlife autobiography and eschatology (where "Our nightmares/ alter the historical report") or tracking down, through his speaker's life and other people's lives, "desire, which/ is appetite,/ which is the snake/ that feeds then starves us." (Aug.)
Forecast:Hudgins's first books placed him firmly among other Southern, so-called New Formalist, poets of the '80s; his work has aged better than most of his peers', and should command strong regional attention, though this volume seems more likely to solidify his reputation than to expand his existing audience.
Release date: 08/01/2003