On “Crimes Against Birds”

Unknown-7A Book Review

On CRIMES AGAINST BIRDS (forthcoming, January 2015, Mainstreet Rag)

by Denton Loving

In this beautiful and raw debut collection, Denton Loving offers us poetry of the earth, of history, of the natural world’s rawness that both sears and warms as it flows. Loving’s own history and roots seem to have profoundly impacted his verse: he lives on a farm near the historic Cumberland Gap, where Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia come together. And, it seems that many things are coming together is this collection.

It’s difficult to be both solid and ephemeral, to find that balance between question and answer, and I would argue that too many new poets today are often afraid of the questions they want or need to put forth in their work, so they rarely do. But Loving manages to walk both deliberately and carefully through his lived or imagined mire with elegance and ease. He has mastered the art (and placement) of the question in his work.

The poems in Crimes Against Birds point at the close and often overlapping connection between the human and animal worlds, offering a reverence in the entwining and speaking to history with a fluid grace. In “Blessing of the Bees”, Loving writes, “May you like the buttercups that yellow/ the pasture, may you find happiness in these hills and woods./Let there always be a little sugar water to sustain.” The cadence of this mantra imparts the speaker’s desire: the flooding need to sustain, while the employment of straightforward lines convey the simplicity of the asking.

Perhaps the most riveting example of Loving’s ability to bring together two seemingly un-connectable worlds is in the piece “A Love Poem About an Exploding Cow”. If the title alone doesn’t draw your interest, I don’t know what will. The poem begins:

“In the middle of night I wake

to a dying cow, holy

even in its pain, as it stands

on a hillside of fescue,

split open from neck

to underbelly.

She’s rotting from the inside

out. A terrible sight.

Only an animal has the dumb

courage to walk around

with its intestines hanging

ready to explode.”

Here, Loving is both farmer and poet. With a quickness and clarity he has drawn us in. In combining the title of the poem with the opening lines, and while we might be a bit appalled, we still connect this dark gruesomeness. We can’t help but want to understand what this love poem is. He continues:

“You and I see the gaping

wound. We smell the stench.

Neither of us knows

what to do. If we had a rifle

and were brave, we could

cleanly put all of us—you and me

and the cow—out of this misery.

But all we have is dynamite

and my dad’s old brown Thunderbird,

left also to rot, forgotten

in the cow field. We

wire the car into a bomb, argue

who will be the one

to turn the key.

Why does it never occur to us

to leave the dynamite and the cow,

to drive away? Because we need

exploding carnage to know the death

is done. After all, what’s love

but hearts and stomachs,

blood and guts?”

And there he gives. For me this poem is so very reminiscent of Galway Kinnell’s “The Bear” for the same reasons. It’s about the fear, the sudden brutality, the dark earthiness, and the forged connection that tethers all of these things and keeps us reading: the idea of love somewhere.

Crimes Against Birds is a gorgeous collection of both brutal and beautiful poetry. Loving is artful in his questions, altruistic in his leavings, and open and generous in his expression. He leaves us, quite perfectly, satisfied and starving for more.

 

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