James Bourey reviews DeWitt Clinton's Hello There
By DeWitt Clinton
We often read poetry that is missing the essential element of “noticing.” The poet may be too invested in pushing a social or political agenda, or too wrapped up in self-analyzing, or drifting off into the realm of the hopelessly abstract. DeWitt Clinton never commits those crimes against poetry. In this fine collection, Hello There, Clinton notices everything. And with the noticing, he builds striking poems that consider big questions about aging and dying, love, and what it is to be human. It’s difficult to pull pithy quotes from this author’s poems because the lines lead, in such a finely tuned way, from one to another. But in this rather lengthy quote from his poem Study Guide: “The Fall of Icarus” for Ms. Hansen’s English 9 Power Slide 7 (written in the persona of a high school student) we learn something about artistic “noticing.”
Well, a lot more things are noticed
By the artist, for example he likes
White cliffs, and white clouds, and
White sunlight, and white sails and
White sheep and white shirts and
White towns but he did a pretty
Good job with a couple of dabs
Of red. Where did he get that red?
But Clinton also makes journeys that explore smaller questions that help with the “big” questions: how to look at a painting (as in the Icarus poem), what are the dangers of falling on ice, even how some conversations can resemble the inside of a spinning clothes dryer. This author is sometimes appropriately fatalistic as he considers death, then, soon after, he’ll take a more optimistic approach to what comes next.
Clinton is an experienced person (a polite way of saying he’s firmly in the ranks of senior citizens) and, as such, he has several interesting poems with a sharp awareness of the aging process. On Approaching A 70th Year and Did You Take the Trash Out, Dear? and Maureen’s Gone and We’ll Be Gone Soon, Too are all poems that look at our advancing years with deep insight and just enough cynicism. But in Like A Plum (which has nothing to do with fruit) Clinton delves deeply into his subject, wryly and with great details, about various biological problems that befall men of a certain age. He ends this poem with a sigh of relief that is both poignant and, perhaps, a little bit angry at the same time. It takes a skilled poet to demonstrate that poetry can be “about” any subject, even the most unpleasant, and still be capable of finding universal truth and lessons about being human, all done with a sense of humor.
This fine volume of fifty poems is divided into three titled sections: Our House, Instructions on the Way Out the Door and Hello There. Each section is loosely themed and the poems flow in a logical and well-ordered way. And all three sections blend into a most appealing, readable, and attention-grabbing whole. It is the work of a sage, a person full of empathy, a very close observer, and a poetic craftsman. This is a collection worth visiting again and again, and it deserves a place on your shelves.
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.