Johnson County Library
Monday, May 11, 2015

Book Review: Oh Say Can You See

Arlin Buyert’s latest collection, Oh Say Can You See, opens with "Big Brother", a poem that exposes the aftermath of a spirit ravaged by war.  It is a candid poem that ensnares the reader in raw emotion, a poem of spare words, grounding details and a haunting and unforgettable metaphor: “someone else came home:/quiet and brittle as a dead tree.”  By the end of the poem, I felt as if Bobbie was my big brother.

Perhaps Buyert’s greatest poetical gift is his ability to always leave the door open to his memories.  Somehow, as the poem is read, the reader becomes more than someone reading the poem – they start to live the poem as well, and by the end of the poem, feel as if they have become a thread in the fabric of Buyert’s memories.  Each poem is a snippet of memory with a metaphor-cloaked secret that is surrounded by concrete details and language that is both blunt and inviting.  Humor sneaks in here and there in poems like ‘Right Rudder,’ a memory detailing a student and instructor’s obscenity-laced interaction.

While the topics of war or poetry may sound daunting to you, Buyert’s poetry immediately erases any apprehension with its simple, open-door approach of sharing emotionally-charged moments of his life and making you feel as if you are welcome to these memories any time Oh Say Can You See, or his other books, Family Photos or Where Shadows Take Their Places are opened and shared.

Joseph Bathanti, Poet Laureate of North Carolina: Family Photos, by Arlin Buyert, is an ekphrastic tour de force, beautifully wrought up in the emotional terrain of ancestry, geography and the ongoingness of blood. These poems are written in language as spare and evocative as a Walker Evans photograph. They move, frame to frame – along with the literal vintage photographs that comprise the journey – through the often precarious terrain of memory. This is a wonderful book.

Ted Kooser, former U.S. Poet Laureate:  “Your book is elegiac and touching- I hope it finds many readers over the years.”

Joseph Bathanti, Poet Laureate of North Carolina:  “I so enjoyed your new book!  My special favorites were those inbedded in the natural world-  you have an eye and ear for landscape.  Congratulations on the book- it’s beautiful both inside and out.”

Peter Gorday, author and poet in Atlanta:  “The poems are gems and the book itself is a work of art!  Poetry is prayer, and the more pure (the more sincerely heartfelt and honest) the poetry is, the more heavenward goes the prayer.  Many thanks for the book- I will always treasure it.”

Jim Moore, notable poet and professor in Minnesota:  “Arlin Buyert’s voice in these wonderful poems is a complex mix of sorrow and joy.  There is such a sense of loss here, but also of love.  These are poems that mark, mourn, and celebrate the passages in life that all of us must encounter.  They are a pleasure to read, pause, then read again.”

Jo McDougall, notable poet and professor in Leawood:  “Loss and change permeate these poems set against a palpable, vivid landscape of Midwestern farms and small towns.  With the authority of one passionately attached to place, Buyert evokes both sorrow and hope with his spare yet resonant language concerning the shadows and light of our lives.”