Table of Contents - Vol. VI, No. 1
Something Must Happen: poems by Ned Balbo, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown, Kentucky. $14
Something Must Happen showcases Ned Balbo’s skill as a poet and presents his varied approach to life and experience itself. His skill with form is demonstrated in sonnets such as Holy Wars for Us, or in A Dog and a Wolf, which uses one line from each of six previous stanzas to form the final sestet. His skill with expression is evident in his every phrase. Such skill is an admirable feature of poetry, but forms and style are the girders on which the sensibility is built. The most interesting feature of the book is the wide range of subject matter and the attendant insight of the poet.
There are topical poems such as the opening poem of the chapbook, Snow in Baghdad, which explores both experience and the language that communicates it . There are historical poems like the Times Square Postcards which are fascinating descriptions and narratives. There is a long personal poem, The Woods, which is a memorable reminiscence of growing up on Long Island and of a boyhood friend who didn’t have a happy childhood. This poem is probably the crown jewel of the book. One of Balbo’s strengths is his sense of history. Even the personal is rooted in a larger context. History isn’t used as material so much for the sake of drama as for the philosophical reflections it elicited in the poet, and subsequently in us. Aerial Views of Levittown captures the beginning of contemporary America and implies what it means, how its newness has become our commonplace. The vagaries of history are considered and offer the reader a meditation on what it all signifies as in this poem which I quote entire:
It’s easy to forget that winter’s advent
Falls within another once contrived
To snare more worshippers: a savior sent,
Disguised as infant, for those who believed
The world held more than Saturnalia,
Gifts wrapped and rent, a seat at someone’s feast,
Who sought, beyond the forced paraphernalia
Of shrill celebration, something blessed
By sky or starlight---you could call it God
Or god (small g), or nothing you could name,
Its means of transport one young woman’s body
And the miracle that lifted shame
From her, and us, her husband standing by---
Protector, cuckold---struggling with the lie.
That is a very powerful poem. It takes the matters of history (the celebration of Saturnalia by the Romans), myth and/or revelation and makes of them a very human and personal experience. This poem is not an isolated gift from the poet to us. Each of his poems has this quality.
The chapbook is titled Something Must Happen. The book contains two epigraphs. The first is from W.H. Auden’s In Memory of W.B.Yeats:
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, it flows south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.
The second is from Kay Ryan, the current Poet Laureate of the U.S.
Ned Balbo’s book is about happenings and the values in history both personal and public, and also about the truths that transcend history. There is much food for thought in these poems. Yes, there is aesthetic delight available, but there is also the more important wiping of the fogged mirror in which we view ourselves and our society.
© Dan Cuddy