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Stephen Scott Whitaker reviews HA Maxson

H.A. Maxson

Blast Books


H.A. Maxson’s One Mind, New and Selected. 1976-2021 turns and spirals and flows, capturing the breadth, the depth of Maxson’s compositions. Maxson’s long been established in Delaware’s literary scene as a poet, publisher, and young adult author, and One Mind is as fine a place for readers to discover or rediscover a master craftsman at home in his element.

Organized in reverse chronological order, Maxson takes the reader back in time. The new poems echo the solace and quiet of a comfortable garden, home and hearth, and of earth. Maxson is engaged with nature, attuned to seasonal turns of life, “Every winter our cellar held spring and summer/like a womb” an apt image for Maxson’s work, and the collection as a whole. With equal measures of elegy and celebration, Maxson captures the rural magic that a young mind can encounter when left to play.

Largely, the collection exigency is elegiac, that elusive memorial to the past that both pines and aches and seeks serenity. Maxson’s ethos is one of emotional vulnerability, paired with sturdy craftsmanship. Maxson’s measured work, certainly influenced by formal poetry, also is loose, flexible. Perhaps best exemplified in the first section by “Rythym and Fence”, a poem that is American blank verse, a poem that, with variation, employs iambic feet:

When we had dug the postholes, sunk the posts,

backfilled and tramped, we slid the rails

into place and moved on. We set hundreds

of feet that summer.

It’s a sly meta-poem about verse as it is a poem about brotherhood, and work, and rural life, and music, that elusive but magical connection two musicians can experience when in sync. The second stanza of the poem introduces drum and bass, the steady rock and roll of youth, which, as the poet knows well, cannot continue forever.

Thematically, Maxson’s at home, as family, marriage, gardening and engaged in making meaning out of everyday life. The quotidian rhythms of quiet living connect the selections in One Mind. This is true even when Maxson engages in dialogue with Dorothy Wordsworth, an appropriate conversationalist for Maxson, as both are attuned to rural simplicity, intellectual curiosity, and imaginative leaps. Maxson weaves Wordsworth’s lines (italicized) with his own, which together synergizes Romantic wonder:

The moon was a perfect Boat, a silver Boat

floating on a lake the size of the sea

Like a spirit of water...

and we sailed it to Byzantium.

As Maxson takes us back in time, his verse expands into narrative (in the poems selected from Brother Wolf), and travels back in time (in the poems selected from Alexander Wilson in America). eventually growing leaner with youth. Maxson’s early work, equally as ambitious and crafted, largely focused on nature and Delaware life. The poems selected from The Curly Poems 1994, offer a grittier more colorful Maxson, one comfortable exploring Curley’s character, whose colorful chaos leaps from the page, “Try standing in a phone-booth once,/on a boardwalk in a hurricane,” from “Curley Surveys the Boardwalk Amusements Closed Down by a Summer Squall” or “The man said he just might/poop in my hat” from Curley Adopts a Puppy, the Seventh Grandson of a Mutt.” And as the collection closes, Maxson has given us an arc, for the quotidian and familial love expressed in poems selected from his first book, Turning the Wood, make a fine bookend with the newest poems, unifying five decades of poetry.

Stephen Scott Whitaker's reviews have been published in The Rumpus, Heavy Feather Review, Rain Taxi, and other places. Whitaker is the winner of the 2021 Pink Poetry Prize.

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