cover image Summer Lake: New and Selected Poems

Summer Lake: New and Selected Poems

David Huddle. Louisiana State University Press, $19.95 (112pp) ISBN 978-0-8071-2382-9

After three previous books of poetry and four of short stories, this ample helping of Huddle's verse appears simultaneously with his impressive first novel, The Story of a Million Years (Forecasts, Aug. 2). Though Huddle writes ""I confess/ to failures of love, truth and decency,"" he is less a confessional poet than a verse-essayist and storyteller: many poems are portraits, anecdotes or recollections of his family and his childhood in tiny Ivanhoe, Va. Always moving, never difficult, Huddle's formally unremarkable free verse and deliberately muted vocabulary seek the clearest possible understandings of his feelings and motives, and of his eccentric, pathetic or brave regional characters. Readers meet the fierce sixth-grade teacher Miss Florence Jackson; Grandmama Huddle, who ""riled by Daylight Savings... kept her/ clocks unchanged""; and ""my grandfather's hired man,/ Monkey Dunford,/ an illiterate, unsanitary,/ deeply ignorant/ and deeply kind/ Holy Roller."" A few poems cover Huddle's tour of duty in Vietnam; an atypical sequence attempts a Merwinesque communion with nature. Much of the rest of the work concerns fathers and fatherhood. In ""Gifts"" father and son visit a toolshed: ""He picked out/ the oldest hammer there,/ offered it to me,/ and I took it/ from his hand."" Huddle's style hasn't changed much, though his poems from the 1970s tend toward shorter lines and a greater focus on childhood; some will please admirers of Stephen Dunn, or of the poetry of Raymond Carver. The 19 new poems in the volume's last section offer more rhythmic variety, along with a new and harrowing subject: the poet's mother's decline into Alzheimer's disease. (Oct.)