02
Jan
13

Christopher Howell Light’s Ladder (2004)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 4/5, which was published circa early 2005.

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Christopher Howell's – Light's LadderChristopher Howell is probably the most gifted poet in America who, unfortunately, is not receiving the proper attention he deserves. He tends to write magnificent lyrical poems, but Light’s Ladder (University of Washington Press) is filled with narrative poems, & they are tremendous. Two of the poems in the collection—“A Party on the Way to Rome” & “He Writes to the Soul” — won Pushcart Prizes, but I think there should have been more winners, such as: “King of Butterflies,” which is a wonderful journey into an imaginary, historical moment but with a tone of believability as if the actions occurred in a physical reality; & “Sometimes at the Braille Calliope,” which begins:

   Sometimes, when I wake at the braille calliope,
   all my fingers stranger than the moon,
   I try to halt the dream that woke me, leaving,
   just to ask if it knows how long I waited,
   watching it sleep inside my sleep, to take hold
   its hand and quit my grieving.

Many of Howell’s poems work in the soft-surreal, in absurd moments, or with the tone of absurdity such as “History,” which is one of the poems that is pushed forward by tight harmonies & the narrative. “History” begins:

   At Agincourt King Henry said, “First
   bastard who runs gets his jewels
   on a plate,” or words to that effect.

A few lines later we encounter “several men” who “farted,” & even this is successful. The poem continues to dance between, or weave, the surreally hilarious & the sincerely serious. The voice is somber, but it is the tone that creates much of the effects. In fact, Howell’s might just be a master with tone, as his voice rarely wavers from the somber. The somberness allows for both the serious & playful, or the tender as in “Story Time,” & there is always the masterful poetry.//

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Howell, Christopher. Light’s Ladder. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004.//

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For another post about a Chirstopher Howell poem, see https://thelinebreak.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/on-christopher-howells-listen-line-breaks-and-harmonies/.

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1 Response to “Christopher Howell Light’s Ladder (2004)”


  1. January 3, 2013 at 7:00 am

    Reblogged this on in gentle poetry savagry lay asleep and commented:
    I’ve been waiting for this for some time. I sometimes enjoy reading reviews as much as I enjoy reading a good book.


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