Nina Bennett reviews David Graham's newest collection
The Honey of Earth
By Nina Bennett
A retired teacher, Graham is currently a contributing editor for Verse-Virtual. He also writes a monthly column, “Poetic License,” on poetry and poets. His newest book, released from Terrapin Press, takes its title from a Wallace Stevens quote, which anchors the collection:
The honey of heaven may or may not come,
But that of earth both comes and goes at once.
The title poem closes this collection, which consists of four numbered sections. The theme of loss and renewal carries throughout the book.Spring bulbs wait for the snow and ice to thaw, then push through the earth to announce the arrival of a new season. They will flower and die off, regenerating for the following spring.
Beneath the tumble and flutter of snow
lie bulbs stored in ice-lock, ready to burn
and shudder upward from their own decay,
the honey of earth immemorial.
Graham’s voice is easy, delightful, playful, and nuanced. In order to fully appreciate Graham’s playfulness, these poems deserve multiple readings. There are poems about small towns, with marvelous titles such as “Ode to Baraboo, Wisconsin,” which boasts on a roadside sign that it is the “54th best small town in the nation.” While Graham takes full advantage of the humor in this sign, his words are never cruel or nasty.
Joys and sorrows are cyclical, one pushes the other aside; occasionally they co-exist in an uneasy truce. Many of the poems relate to multiple layers of aging. In “Heaven Changes,” the poem contrasts “how when young we spoke/ in the morning of party antics” with “these days it’s how well/ or ill we slept, the grail being/ seven or eight straight hours/ with no bathroom shuffle dance.” Some poems address the change in long-term relationships, especially as family and friends die. “Thanksgiving Snow” is spot on for conversation among these friends:
This is what old friends do for holiday:
sip wine and add up the losses.
Again, the honey of earth comes and goes; friends still gather, and they bring the memories of deceased ones with them, but it seems as though every year there are fewer at the table.
The concept of coming and going grounds this collection. There are poems about driving somewhere, and observing the changing seasons almost in amazement that spring, for example, should be here again:
A year now. Why should this May
astonish more or less than your last?
In “At Sixty-Five,” the speaker says “on my birthday I want nothing but/ more of everything.” Spot on- I want more David Graham poetry.
Delaware native Nina Bennett is the author of The House of Yearning, Mix Tape, and Sound Effects (Broadkill Press Key Poetry Series). Her poetry has been nominated for the Best of the Net and has appeared in publications that include South85, I-70 Review, Gargoyle, Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, Philadelphia Stories, and The Broadkill Review. Awards include the 2014 Northern Liberties Review Poetry Prize and second-place in poetry book category from the Delaware Press Association (2014). Nina is a founding member of the TransCanal Writers (Five Bridges, A Literary Anthology).