Ecstatic in the Poison
The opening poem of Andrew Hudgins’s Ecstatic In the Poison: New Poems, “In,” pictures a neighborhood’s children in some innocent past, racing outdoors to play ecstatically in the fog left by a truck spraying poison for mosquitoes. Their joy at playing in the mist is as real as the danger they do not recognize. “Out,” the last poem of the collection, moves in a different direction. Here the speaker recalls being lowered into a well, dropped through the frightening tunnel to retrieve the source of the well’s rot, a dead dog, which he grasps as his father raises him back into light and pure air.
In between these two, the collection crackles, sometimes with Hudgins’s comic vision—“A Joke Walks into a Bar,” or the torrid narrative of “Southern Literature” or “Day Job and Night Job” in which a student tries to reconcile his factory work with his life as an English major. Other poems in the volume look at what hurts in human life—our futile attempts to address the suffering of children, a writer’s awareness of how metaphor can fail and the writer’s painful awareness of a desire to manipulate the experiences even of those he loves. Some are essentially lyric. In “The Lake Sings to the Sleepless Child,” the lake’s song is beautiful and seductive, as it draws the child into the watery depths.
Hudgins’s poems are highly accessible, which is not to say that they are simple; indeed, like images of the ecstatic children dancing in the poison mist, they often wrestle with life’s ambiguities and conclude with tensions still, as in life, unresolved.
Booklist 99, no. 21 (July 1, 2003): 1858.
Library Journal 128, no. 12 (July, 2003): 86.
The New York Times Book Review 153, no. 52711 (December 28, 2003): 13.
Publishers Weekly 250, no. 29 (July 21, 2003): 189.