Atwood mourns love lost and celebrates love found.
This review was originally published May 2019 for Vocal.Media. It have been subject to editing changes.
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Endless echoes of weary, despondent sighs are what reverberates in this 2011 poetry book, written by Richard Atwood (and what it contains almost exclusively). Atwood’s emotional poems throughout Death and Morning are romantic, erotic, and melancholic. The text does not stray very far from that atmosphere of passionate, yet unlucky love. For all intents and purposes, the first lines of the opening stanza in the piece “Love’s Goodbye” serves as a rather succinct summary of the collection. Through his softly breathing verse, Atwood will interlock his fingers with those of his readers, and lead them from “…sorrow, to love, to sorrow. / A thousand roads, and each / with a few candles.”
As the pages of this book are turned, Atwood will leave the offerings of his own interpretations of deep love upon his readers’ pillows, the kind of love that makes “…all the earth— / on fire / or in flower…” and of intense heartbreak, “…how / it is stored, each bitter movement.” His fluttering poetry beats with the shattering of a thousand broken hearts.
It is not a shocking revelation that much of the book is dedicated to love lost. Atwood suggests that the dissolution of certain relations is “…long, and unavoidable / as a tree / struck through a windshield…” The intense emotions Atwood summons up with his imagery is a testament to his skillful craftsmanship as a wordsmith.
In addition to creating odes to love and sorrow, Atwood attests that creating a perfect love is a nigh impossible feat for most mortals as they are “…simple— broken and complex: / fragment of the universe / and one small soul…”, and yet, Atwood is enraptured by the act of love and loving another being. He writes, “I am a lucky man. Small / and insignificant to love you. / (It is that you love me, / I find surprising.)”
In “Transition” Atwood takes a quick detour from love to gaze upon the poets. The speaker notes the at once huge and minuscule impact the passing of these small human candles known as poets have on the world. Nothing so dramatic happens when a poet draws their last breath, “the sea does not shake / nor spill” and yet “those who knew him: / the eyes going up— / the stars, still.” There is a pain present with the passing, though the world takes it in stride with each rotation around the sun. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and all that.
Though the text finds itself to be most often drowning in heartbreak, it does provide some advice for those romantic souls yearning for love. Atwood urges his readers to avoid forcing romance, but rather to let it “…creep / upon you in the dark / or fall from the sudden noon / like an avalanche, / stark… and blinding.” He wishes for his readers to be anointed by love, rather than to kill it by brutally pursuing it.
Atwood also addresses the politics of love in his own early morning kiss-like fashion. His descriptions of his lover’s “gold-crazed cradle…” of hair, how he puts his “mouth over yours as I would put / on no other…” provide superb, if not succulent, imagery before he remarks that there are those who “…on the / street / would adjudge, and disdain” simply because his lover is a man.
Atwood’s poetry has certainly been created with the unconquerable romantic in mind. Death and Morning does touch on other subjects, but this collection is primarily for lovers, those with or without a partner. His work is lined with an intensity that begs, “let me hold, let me touch / let me be in…” and realizes that love “…is a complex word, / is a complex deed” which brings individuals to the highest peaks, and could toss them from it on a whim.
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