David Hathwell’s THE POWER OF THE TELLING collects fifty poems, several of which were formerly published in literary magazines, in a single volume, thematically divided into eight sections, alongside some reader’s notes. The author’s background as a retired high-school teacher and his passion for the English language and literary tradition is evident in the formal precision and the attention to detail with which he crafts each of his poems. Covering a range of themes, the poems delve into small day-to-day occurrences and abstract philosophy and contain layers of meaning that take a few re-reads to uncover.
One of the most striking features is, of course, the sense of movement that drives the poetry. The way Hathwell uses his verbs ensure that the poems are always in a state of dynamic equilibrium, which in turn, imbues them with vitality and liveliness. His work is also alliterative and vivid, skillfully balancing statements with the right amount of sensory detail, and he constantly makes literary references, which English majors and well-read attentive readers are sure to catch.
The first section “Wonder” is gloriously evocative. For instance, the poem “Red Dress” by simultaneously painting an image of a beautiful dress, alongside blissful matrimony, carefully blurs the gap between symbol and object, as these lines suggest: “It becomes Red Dress, wins all/ red dresses to its glorious form—/the only one and all you need.” Another poem “Dust Is Winning” captures the inescapable motions of our mundane routines and turns into a meditation on humanity’s futile fight against entropy. Hathwell also experiments with patterns and the visual arrangement of the poem on a page, as seen most prominently in “Allan Gardens”.
In the section “Bonds” which is mostly concerned with relationships and connections, a poem called “Relativity” takes its inspiration from scientific theory and time’s relativity, to focus upon the significance of a chance encounter and a missed connection. Several of the poems are written in first-person and addresses an imaginary “you”, with a strong narrative voice reminiscent of Browning’s dramatic monologues. A personal favorite is “Slipping Off The Raft” which has a Charon-like figure as a narrator, possibly addressing dead human souls, before they board the ship.
Finally, the reader’s notes, provided at the end, neither explain or clarify the meanings of the poems, but offer some added commentary, a wry observation or two, footnoting a particular allusion or detailing a personal history associated with a poem. They may be read alongside the poems, or afterwards. Although the collection could have benefitted from some more lucidity and less rigid structuring, it is nevertheless quite delightful and satisfying to read and occasionally reread.
In THE POWER OF THE TELLING, retired high-school teacher David Hathwell offers a rich and striking collection of poems, full of quiet meditations, sensory detail and interesting anecdotes, that are formally precise and multi-layered and a joy to read and uncover.
~Archita Mittra for IndieReader