Verdict: This poetry collection examines life’s big emotions—loss, regret, and love among them—with a refreshingly down-to-earth voice and a breezy form.
If UNDER THE OAK were a painting, it would be a soft Monet, and each of its 138 poems, a brushstroke—soft and swift, but thick with meaning. Ultimately, they complement one another, running together to create the hazy impression of a life, with all its ups and downs.
The themes in UNDER THE OAK are familiar ones, including the overwhelming nature of love and doubt, the regret that comes from letting potential romance slip away, nostalgia for the way things used to be, and hope for what they might still become. The title poem succinctly sums up the book’s general gist: “a centenarian oak… / it began its lonely watch / long before my birth / and it will stand / long after I am gone / a living contradiction; / a gentle, stark reminder / of the limits of mortality / a tribute to life’s / surprisingly longevity.” In these poems, Hynes explores the both mortality and longevity in easy-to-read bursts that are meaningful without becoming obscure.
Throughout, the author eschews fancy techniques; there are no iambs or rhyme schemes here. In their place, he favors a straightforward style with a snappy pace and general lack of punctuation. Only 11 poems feature periods, an effect that causes the reader linger, spending more time considering those certain sentences. The conversational “you” and “I” often used by the poems’ speakers conjures a mood of storytelling or reflection, and nearly every reader will find at least one scene, one emotion, that they also share.
While the author’s colloquial tone (“your luck could change / you won’t know / if you don’t get up again”) and stark imagery (“forks of lightning / streaking the sky / while kettledrum thunder / rolls over the roof”) are masterful, the same can’t be said for his similes and metaphors, which often fall into cliché. In “Torrents,” dark clouds “look pregnant with waiting rain”; in “Scattered Diamonds,” sun shining on snow is akin to “a field of scattered diamonds.” And several scattered typos pull the reader out of the moment.
Despite its minor flaws, UNDER THE OAK is a compelling collection that leaves readers wanting more details about the losses the speaker has suffered and the dreams he’s left behind, as well as taking a deep look at their own lives and what their legacy will be.
~Christina Doka for IndieReader