Andrew Hudgins is a successor to earlier luminaries of southern poetry such as Robert Penn Warren and James Dickey, and his verse reveals the standard southern obsessions of race, faith, and place. At the same time, his poetry follows the return to narrative, transparent verse that marks such older contemporaries of Hudgins as Billy Collins and David Kirby. As the child of a military father who took his children with him from posting to posting, including assignments abroad in England and France, Hudgins had a more cosmopolitan childhood than those of many of his high school classmates. Perhaps his travels as a child gave him a different perspective; at any rate, his poetry again and again returns to his upbringing and to his family. Some critics have noted that Hudgins’s work shares a taste for the gothic or grotesque so often associated with such southern writers as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Warren. A more accurate assessment might be that Hudgins’s narrative verses are often focused on those elements from the past that other writers might shy away from or avoid in favor of less challenging subjects.
Typically, Hudgins’s collections are unified books of verse rather than a series of unrelated poems. Saints and Strangers is a consideration, largely, of people who at times had been held up to the poet as exemplars of faith or a variety of human strengths and foibles. After the Lost War is a series of narrative poems focusing on the poet Lanier and his American Civil War experiences as a Confederate soldier. The Glass Hammer is a collection of poems about Hudgins’s childhood and adolescence.
Hudgins’s earlier poems tend to consist of relatively short lines and are tightly constructed in terms of form, often written in blank verse. “Sidney Lanier in Montgomery: August, 1866,” from Saints and Strangers, for example, is told in a cleanly composed iambic tetrameter, as when the narrator describes the dissolution of his postwar city: “ If you went on a Sunday walk with me,/ you’d see that almost nothing moves./ The trees stand motionless, like statues. . . .” Although poems and stanzas sometimes run long, they are always united with a coherent narrative and are rarely centered around oblique symbols.
Both Hudgins’s style and interests have evolved in later works. Babylon in a Jar features a number of poems with lines that are fragmented across the page, in stark contrast to his earlier poems. The poems in Babylon in a Jar and Ecstatic in the Poison show a divergence in the poet’s interests, and Shut Up, You’re Fine, a collection of satirical nursery rhymes, is a decided departure from the bleak considerations of the southern mind that inhabit his...
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