Friday, June 17, 2011

Andrew Hudgins - A Child on the Marsh

Since this book follows the arc of Sidney Lanier's life, I thought it best to begin at the beginning.  The first poem is titled "Child on the Marsh" and is approximately 2.5 pages of blank verse.  There are no strophe breaks.  Hudgins ends with a rhymed couplet.  Basically, Hudgins does what he wants because he's that good. 

Hudgins uses the marsh to introduce Lanier, his mother, his father and the impending war.

He begins:

"I worked the river's slick banks, grabbling
in mud holes underneath tree roots."

Grabbling is the practice of using ones hand as both lure and rod in the hopes that a male catfish guarding its eggs will attack the hand so one can pull it from the river.  It is also a great example of how Hudgins picks common words and scenes and then grabbles the art from them.

The poem follows Lanier, the boy, through a day of fishing the marsh.  He winds up getting lost and when he finally finds his way home, his mother whips him rather half-heartedly before crying in relief and embracing him.

In my favorite part, Lanier remembers the time his father brought home a mudcat that he caught while fishing, drunk, before dawn.  Hudgins manages to capture the point of view of the child that sees an element of magic in everything.
                         "...But father laughed
and hugged me hard, pressing my head
against his coat, which stank, and glittered
where dried scales caught the light, For breakfast
he fried enormous chunks of fish,
the whole house glorious for days
with their rich stink.  One scale stuck to my face,
and as we ate he blinked, until
he understood what made me glitter.
He laughed, reached over, flicked the star
off of my face."

One thing that struck me was the irregular line lengths Hudgins uses.  I find myself worrying that irregular line lengths will imbalance a poem, but that is never an issue here.  (Note to self: figure out how to do that...)

Hudgins ends with a gorgeous connection between his relationship with the marsh and his mother. 

"And even as a child, I heard,
inside her sobs and chuckling,
the lovely sucking sounds of earth
that followed me, gasped, called my name
as I stomped through the mud, wrenched free
and heard the earth's voice under me."

This poem establishes Lanier as a sensitive soul; connected to the earth, nature, his parents.  I know that the war will wrench him away but I don't know how.  This creates a tension that pushes the reader forward. 


  1. Geez - I think everyone picked wonderful poets and wonderful books this year. Or maybe y'all just know how to make them sound good. My wish list keeps growing. From the examples you've given, the LB's and the unevenness don't seem an issue, aren't even noticed, at least to me. The writing is so compelling, the narrative draws the reader in and the breaks in the line just seem to occur where they need. to. Truly a wonderful piece of writing.

  2. I'm so surprised and psyched. I really appreciate his language, how succinctly direct and detailed he is, I'm truly drawn in, like how I was reading Laura Ingalls Wilder as a kid. Dang it all, between him and what seems to be your acute reading of him, I could easily end up a convert to nature poems *and* war poems by mid-July. This would not be a bad thing.