By Stanley Plumly
Norton – £10.99
A kind of mix herself of opera and brothel.
(Luckily) once again, there’s something potentially real about good, instinctive poetry. It stands up to be counted in defence of its own. It stands up to be either misused, misread or abused. Whatever.
But more importantly, it fundamentally remains.
With the possible exception of really great, honest music, the right poetry pretty much remains and connects like no other medium. Within a mere few words, it can reveal, bequeath, suggest as well as inspire and destroy. And Arthur Plumly’s Orphan Hours is no exception. As is mentioned in The Dallas Morning News: ”Plumly is a master of tone. His ‘I’ is not noisy, not flashy, not there to steal the show. The ‘I’ of his poems is intent on something other than self: bird, tree, leaf… Each poem invites you.”
Indeed they do. You might not always want to home in on what they have in mind, mind; but your invited nevertheless. For instance, a poem such as ‘Sitting Alone in the Middle of the Night,’ which at some time or another we’ve all done, brings those harrowing moments of foregone conclusion to the very fore of the everyday:
and he’d be sitting there in a kind of outline,
Nothing would be said, since there was nothing to say.
He was dying, he was turning into stone. The little
I could see I could see already how much heavier
he made the air, heavy enough over the days that
you could feel in the house the pull of the earth.
Such is both the gravitas and the gravity of the writing, not to mention the imagery, that the reader is very much compelled to accept what’s written at face, or should I say, word value. As we’ve all been to the places herein. Although to relive the nightmare to the extent as to share such literary poignancy, is an altogether different matter.
This is just one of the many reasons which accounts for this collection of fifty poems being as stately, powerful and unforgettable as they are. From ”the lottery of dead” to the ”missing link along the chain of being” (‘The Day of the Failure in Saigon’); from ”catheter to conversation” to ”my mother a machine until I had to choose to turn it off” (‘Orphan Hours’), these poems are without doubt, some of the most achingly heartfelt I’ve read in a long, long time.