By Dave Boles
Published by Cold River Press
For centuries storytellers and poets have used wild (and sometimes tame) animals to amuse, instruct, and enlighten those who will listen. Aesop, in his fables, gave speaking voices to lions, tigers, foxes, bears, and a whole menagerie of creatures. Modern authors, such as George Orwell, Richard Adams, Laline Paull, Barbara Gowdy, and Brian Doyle have built complex worlds in which animals become protagonists and supporting characters. And, of course, indigenous peoples on every continent have used talking animals in their rich, often humorous, stories of creation and instruction. In Native American lore, Coyote is often a trickster but, in many stories, he has a god-like status as a provider of fire and as a mediator between life and death.
In his book Coyote Vision, Dave Boles builds upon this tradition with his titular character. This book is an unusual compilation of six shorter, stand-alone poems that precede a long, five-section epic poem. The stand-alone poems are an introduction to Coyote and the narrator who has had a long, sometimes contentious, but generally amiable relationship. Coyote wanders between the narrator’s earthly realm and some sort of netherworld. Often, he is a trickster, a source of much laughter in the narrator’s life. Sometimes he acts the fool. At other times he is a teacher trying to bring enlightenment to his recalcitrant friend. These six poems are well crafted, built on a rhythm that, when read aloud, is reminiscent of modern storytellers from the Adirondack Mountains and from nearby Native American communities. Within some of the first six poems is dialogue where we get a sense of the contrast between the voice of Coyote and the narrator. All of this is helpful when reading the epic poem that follows.
The five-part epic carries the same title as the book. The parts consist of Prologue, The Quest, The Sweat, Apotheosis, and Epilogue. Each of the sections has further subdivisions. This poem is largely spiritual and tells the tale of the narrator’s “Vision Quest” in which Coyote is the guide. As we follow the narrator through his adventures with Coyote, we see many sections that follow Native American lore and practice. The “sweat” is a very common practice in tribal culture. Also, the use of peyote, mescal, and other hallucinogenic substances figure in rituals, particularly in tribes of the West and Southwest. And the author speaks with some authority on these ritualistic passages. But this epic is not a proselytizing sermon. It is the story of one person’s journey of self-discovery. The journey is described in a most appealing way, and it offers up some of the unusual paths followed by the narrator, paths that some might call mind-altering. But the resolution at the end of the journey is just a little bit “hippie-ish” which, for this reader who experienced that era, was very satisfying.
From the striking cover art to a fine layout and design, to well-crafted and interesting poetry, this is a very nice addition to the shelves of anyone interested in the poetry of spiritual discovery. And it is also a fine addition for anyone who enjoys some slightly surrealistic, humorous, and engagingly “fabulous” storytelling. Give this one a try.
(Full Disclosure: Dave Boles. Editor, Publisher, and owner of Cold River Press published my book The Distance Between Us back in 2020.-- jim bourey)
jim bourey is a poet with a lot of life experience, which is to say he’s old. His work has been
published in the Broadkill Review, Mojave River Review, Gargoyle, Rye Whiskey Review, and
many other print and online journals. He has also been published in several anthologies including
“Endlessly Rocking: Celebrating Walt Whitman’s 200th Birthday” from Bridgewater University
in Virginia. His first book, a chapbook called Silence, Interrupted was published by The
Broadkill River Press and was selected as best book of verse by the Delaware Press Writers
Association in 2015. His second collection called The Distance Between Us was published by
Cold River Press in 2020. And he is co-author, with Linda Blaskey, of Season of Harvest from
Pond Road Press, 2022. His next collection will be released in Spring, 2023. He and his wife
Linda reside on the edge of the Adirondacks in NY State, though they do find a few months of
refuge in Delaware during the deep winter.