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Monday, March 12, 2012

Book Review: The Hallelujah of Listening

The Hallelujah of Listening by Preston H. Hood
Cervena Barva Press 2011
Somerville, Massachusetts
Reviewed by Debrah Lechner

Preston Hood served with SEAL TEAM 2 in Vietnam in 1970, and has spent a great deal of his life since then as an activist for peace through Veterans for Peace and a scholar of war in the organization through the William Joiner for the Study of War and Social Consequences for nine years. Along the way he’s published a book of poetry, A Chill I Understand (2006), a CD of his poetry, been published in many journals, and participated and co-presented conferences on beat poetry and civil rights.

You’d expect a volume of his poetry would include material on war  and social concerns, and it does, very effectively. The poetry of The Hallelujah of Listening is also crystalline in structure and precise in form. Each poem has a quality of silence in the simplicity applied to complex ideas. Preston Hood is not afraid of the negative space in an image, or the white space on a page.

In this collection, I have two favorite poems. The first is "At Robert’s Pond," a poem with strong imagery and empathy, that tells the story of the kind of life that may be possible with the acceptance of the passing moment:

            Dragonflies & redwing black-
birds dart & float along Robert’s Pond
in green seclusion. Beyond
the estuary a storm rumbles
far above
            their speckled flittings.

            They will swept away
from the air they breathe & fly
with whatever rain & lightning do
to lake & wood. Neither
will they show the slightest anger
at not being loved, nor regret
            when forced from shelter.
            Waiting out the darkness
they will be called
            to the earth, to witness.

The power of the narrative poem at its best brings forth both the power of story, a form we instinctively understand, and of lyricism, which we rely on when ordinary words and the structure of a sentence fails us. Hood’s poems contain the pleasure and power of both.

A poem that perhaps most starkly illustrates the power of the negative space in imagery and the white space around words that Hood uses is "Meditation:"

You seek the upper window,
            or the lark’s song high lyric.
You may be entitled to both.

This is the entirety of the poem, and these lines can live in the mind nearly eternally, enlightening moments that might otherwise be remain obscure.

Also adding to the enjoyment of this chapbook is a CD of Hood reading his poetry, which gives it a welcome added dimension. His voice is warm and articulate and it’s lovely to listen to poetry while living one’s life. CDs should be included more often in poetry offerings.

Find a copy of The Hallelujah of Listening and give yourself this gift.

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