Often these days I am asked to judge a few poetry contests which I do with great pleasure because reading manuscripts helps me stay in tune with the new voices, and by extension the new voices help me stay feeling young and connected. It is never easy to read through a long list of final manuscripts and then pick a winner (a word I’m not too crazy about) but the task, though often daunting and time consuming, is still quite pleasurable to me because I read with both an open mind and an open heart, not necessarily looking for a “winner” (I’m not sure I know what one wins in the larger scheme of things), but for the one manuscript with which I keep dialogue. A manuscript that immediately begins to lure me to its pages, its words, its voice . . .
This is clearly the case with what happened with Don Colburn’s book of poems, As if Gravity Were a Theory. I began by succumbing to the book’s title, its wide-eyed assertions and possibilities, and then to its pages filled with energized poems . . . poem after poem, I fell into this book’s charm and the thoughtprovoking landscape of so many of the poems. Mr. Colburn, one comes to realize rather quickly as one begins to enjoy the book, is not only a master craftsperson, but one possessed of the gift of story-telling. To say these poems are lucid and gem-like is an understatement: They are that and more.
The book is smartly separated into three parts, not equal in the number of pages or poems, but each building on the last, washing over the reader like a succession of mounting waves. The last part is the longest and the most affecting; here the poems fall upon you like a strong tropical downpour. You, reader, are invited to read on after “Given,” “Elegy in March,” and “Storm on Lopez Island,” because you quickly become very aware that this is a fresh new voice, someone who can handle the nuances of language with grace, and dare I say, beauty.
By the time I reached “Wrecking Ball,” I was in essence mesmerized by the poet’s command, and by the fact that here is a poet not afraid to use trouble-maker words like “beauty.” And he does so with great effect.
I believe this is one of those rare cases of a poet madly in love with the world, clearly, the way good poets always are. Early parts of this book display a great variety in terms of form and content. There’s an organic rhythm being relayed to us, and certainly by the time you arrive at the title poem in this book you are won over: “…Snow is falling everywhere, even/ up from the tarmac in the trembling / around the engine barrels. / . . . No cottonwoods to give the river away, no river. / No earth, no edge. Not one fact / to tell how far there is to fall.”
This is a gifted poet, for sure—one fully aware of the ability of image to carry the burden of language, except there’s no burden here. Not at all. These poems are at best richly elegiac and nostalgic, but the good kind of nostalgia, the kind that reconnects us with nature, with kin, with all the dead poets and people in our lives.
I loved the poem “De Kooning in Court at Eighty-Five” because it signals the opening (if not ripening) of the poet’s maturity and strength as we reach the middle-of-the-middle of this fine collection. By the time we arrive at the next-to-last poem in this collection, “The Farmer,” and read “Tonight I picture him out in field, / dancing barefoot in the muck / and hollering, everything possible.”
And everything is. Everything is recorded with great resonance in As if Gravity Were a Theory, a fine collection and a great opening of the human heart and spirit. I wish Don Colburn godspeed with his voice and poetry. He clearly has a bright future with his words with this talisman of a first book I will forever treasure because, though I did not find it, I can be its keeper . . . to share of it with you and with whomever else you care to gift it.
Salud & saludos,
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