By Dave Boles
Cold River Press 2021
First, some full disclosure. Dave Boles is a friend of mine. He is also the publisher/editor at Cold River Press in Grass Valley, California. And his press published my most recent book back in 2020. So, my objectivity may be slightly skewed in his favor. But I tend to find the good in every book I review, so the balance is about normal for me.
Coyote Magic is a collection of poems that explore our modern world through an ancient device. In this book, Mr. Boles is a fabulist, a storyteller, a seer, and a sage. His friend Coyote is his mentor, guide, and spiritual advisor. And having Coyote in these roles, the author is appropriating a character from many cultural backgrounds and indigenous peoples, from North America to Asia to Europe, and even to Africa. Coyote is variously described as a trickster, or as a mediator between the Creators and humans, and other animals. Or he may appear as a shaman, magician, or explainer. And the author adeptly uses all these forms in lively, interesting, rhythmic, and usually instructive poems.
The poems vary in length, from thirty-plus pages to just fourteen lines. Some poems are epic tales of creation. Others are humorous political allegories. And still, others are quiet views of moments in nature. And there are a couple that have a decidedly psychedelic edge.
In Coyote Reads Rimbaud we hear a discussion between the narrator and Coyote about French poet Jean Rimbaud and his book “Illumination.” But the conversation is more of a comic dialogue that contains a few facts and a small lesson about accepting unusual people and incidentally, about reading poetry. Later in the collection, we find Coyote Views Degas. This poem, set in a museum, moves from a very brief discussion of Degas’ art to a more in-depth story about the artist’s use of coyote-tail-hair brushes. Whether the artist actually used such brushes is not important. What is valuable in this poem is the skill of the poet in telling a story with a few lines of dialogue and some odd and interesting details that cause the reader to think about Art in a different, more open-minded way. And another valuable part of this story is the gently humorous telling. In fact, all the poems in this book have that same quiet (sometimes bewildered) sense of humor as the narrator engages with the ever-changing Coyote.
Modern politics are not immune from some biting Coyote commentary. In Smoking with Coyote, we learn how the sensible political system of the animal world compares to our loud and unruly methods of selecting governance. Satire in the tradition of Swift is wielded in broad strokes as Coyote joins the narrator in burning some herb as they are engaged in a rather loopy discussion.
From egrets to mud, to the practice of Zen, to the big questions of the universe, we are drawn into the world of Coyote and an eager to learn human. Questions beget questions, and the Trickster is always ready to throw in a diversion that shows how some lines of inquiry are often pointless. There are twenty-six poems in this collection and each one offers a little gentleness, a bit of humor, a small lesson, and some intriguing stories. It is all packaged in a beautifully designed and constructed, perfect-bound paperback. I recommend this one.
Jim Bourey is an old poet who divides his time between the northern Adirondack Mountains and Dover, DE. His work has appeared in Mojave River Review, Stillwater Review, Blue Nib, Paddock Review, and other journals and anthologies. He is the author of two chapbooks of poems. He has been an adjudicator for Delaware Poetry Out Loud and can often be found reading aloud in dark rooms.