Madison Jones reviews SOUTH by Peter Huggins

December 30, 2014 0 Comments Book Review 691 Views

This review appears in issue 4.3 winter solstice of Kudzu House Quarterly.

Peter Huggins. South. Auburn, Alabama: Solomon & George, 2013. 59 pp. $13.00. Paperback.

 

Huggins’ fourth poetry collection South takes us through regions of time, ideologies of place, and interior landscapes of the mind. His language is tersely sharp, and his brevity allows cunning and playful wit to shape the poems like a cutting line of kireji in haiku. Though these poems have a clever edge, they are never snide or cynical. At all times, Huggins celebrates the place, for both its heroic and despicable histories in a way that “heals and makes whole” (21). The opening poem reveals the horror and violence for those who were uprooted and brought here, forced from a home to a land of subjugation. Huggins looks to this in the poem “Ibo Landing on St. Simon’s Island,” which draws on an oral tale–one which hasn’t, until recently, been written down but nonetheless did happen–of a group of Ibo slaves who marched to their deaths into the sea. In the face of slavery’s horror, they chose death. The story is something of a legend in the place now, but the fact that the story documents such a tragic and heroic moment, kept alive through an oral tradition, adds its own layers of complexity and richness with Huggins profound image of the water “Sawing/ our chains, it sets us free” (9).

The book shifts through history and place, weaving through locations and the consciousnesses of historical figures to tell their stories in a new and important context. We see civil war reenactments and children playing with toy swords, but most prominently we see the way that the natural world invades the human domain. Like the waters at St. Simon’s Island, nature constantly intervenes in these poems to undermine power and authority. Huggins’ depiction of the south as a site of struggle and redemption is inspiring and shocking. The poem “Mosquitoes” deals with one facet of the south anyone familiar with the region will understand. In the poem, the natural world pierces the speaker’s consciousness, connecting him to ancient tropes, histories, and “the women I have known” (16). The poems weave together “Dante in Alabama,” giving us a glimpse of Huggins’ vision of personal connections to this place.

Given the subject matter, one might expect the book to be utterly dark, consumed with despair or melancholy. However, Huggins’ wit cuts through the anguish, always celebrating the audacity and courage of those who persevere and survive. His poems are also quite funny. For example, “The Tan Contest Judge Thinks of Peaches” where “you don’t find women with tans/ Like these on Roan Mountain” (38). Ultimately, These poems draw important connections. His work is intricate, complex, and rich. His vision neither ignores the dark history of the antebellum south, nor loses itself in the past. If you are in need of a great collection of poetry—which everyone is—grab a copy of South today!

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