I've been writing poetry for decades. Critiquing, reviewing, and editing it for nearly as long. Strangely, I had forgotten what it is to be simply a reader. Housden's book opens with one of the most straightforward explanations of why poetry matters and always will. Poetry captures humanity and "delivers it up in exactly the right words." The introduction explains why he put this book together, a sort of mini-poetry-anthology. The book gives us ten poems to ponder. Each is accompanied by an essay where he considers the poem, explains why it is important to him, and why it has meaning for others. The poems detail the act of saying goodbye. Through our lives we say goodbye to people, things, and the more amorphous stuff of life. This book reminded me of why poetry is the essential tool of the mind and heart for doing so.
Some of the poems in the book are ones I know and some I've read often. "The Lost Hotels of Paris" by Jack Gilbert (I adore Gilbert's poetry) and "How It Will Happen, When" by Dorianne Laux are two that I've seen before. Others were new to me: poems by Ellen Bass, Gerald Stern, Rilke, and more. For some of the poems Housden offers a short biography of the poet to explain to the reader how astonishing the poem truly is, especially as it relates to the poet's life (he mentions Gilbert's encroaching dementia to great effect). In others, he remarks on how well a particular poet writes the poetry of humanity. With every poem, however, Housden manages to illuminate the lines and words so that even the most novice reader will understand and appreciate what is happening. The act of reading the poem makes it real.
It's been years since I've read poems like this. Oh, not poems of goodbye or realization or any of the usual human foibles, but rather, it's been years since I've read poems with my writerly eyes stripped away. I try to consider the reader when I am writing, always and of course, but it's been ages since I truly understood what it's like to come to a piece of art, innocent and yearning. Housden somehow manages to capture that essence and give it back to you with his essays. He deciphers the poems without taking away from them. Instead he gifts them to the reader with a sort of step ladder that reaches to the top of those towers of words. The remarkable thing is that he does it without imposing himself onto the poem.
Housden's delightful collection of ten poems, one for every kind of goodbye I can imagine, is definitely a book I would recommend. Both writers and readers will enjoy the gorgeous poetry, some of which I have read and loved for years (selections from Gilbert, Laux, Rilke, and others). Housden's insightful thoughts about the poems illuminate the lines with a joy I didn't expect in a book that documents the act of leaving and letting go. His essays and these ten poems reminded me that ". . . our life of the senses and feelings and thoughts, it all matters after all." Especially when saying goodbye.