Harry Brown

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 572

A great admirer of W. B. Yeats, Summers attempts balance not only in writing two genres; he shows a concern for balance and form at every level in his art, and the number three obsesses him as he orders. For example, he divided The Day After Sunday, his fourth novel, into three parts, each of which contains three sections. Each section in turn contains five chapters, one for each of the five major characters; each chapter is told from one major character's point of view. He has also arranged Occupant Please Forward into three parts. The poem "Occupant" opens the first section, and "Please Forward" is the second poem in the third section. Like his speaker in "Civilization," the poet "filled space with pattern."…

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[For me the most important characteristic of Summers] is the Metaphysical quality of his poetry. An admirer of the English Metaphysicals as well as of later Yeats, he shows in his poems the subtlety, irony, ambiguity, elliptical quality, unusual figures of speech, and difficulty—in thought and syntax—that we often associate with Metaphysical style. (p. 251)

The poet in "The Marriage" and elsewhere uses sound patterns in a way that calls for careful reading. For example, although the speaker and his wife have had thus far a "sylvan" marriage, he knows the comfortable marriage can turn into a civil war. Sylvan may turn in to civil; the change—in sound and subject—could occur easily enough. The middle section of the poem—seven couplets set between two sets of two five-line stanzas which open and conclude the poem—exhibits the poet's lyrical and elliptical manner as well as his use of balance and repetition of sound…. (p. 252)

"Tunnel," later in Part 1, uses another metaphor for marriage. Against the echo of the romantic and clichéd tunnel of love, the poet makes marriage a tunnel of laws and restrictions. The abstraction is older than Blake's "London," but Summers has wrought an original extended metaphor in this book of poems that emphasizes our small but lonely world of trains, planes, and freeways…. Although "Tunnel" like many of the poems in Occupant Please Forward portrays a strained relationship and hints loneliness, the poem concludes with, first, a hope for light and openness—"a curve of light"—however glimmering and far away; and, finally in any case, resignation.

Throughout Occupant Please Forward the poet balances need, loneliness, and loss against love, joy, and meaningful relationships. The title itself and the poem "Please Forward" set the book's tone. Occupant Please Forward says Out of Touch, but the title and the volume also say I reach—I yearn—and, occasionally, I touch. According to the opening tercet of "Please Forward," "I am not sure where you are,/I'm not sure if you are,/These days I am not sure." (pp. 252-53)

For the poet human beings matter and in spite of civil war, tunnels of marriage, and abrupt, impersonal departures, he makes a leap of faith to affirm meaningful human relationships. In "Figure," a very moving poem that takes opposition to the usually peripheral figure of Joseph in paintings and sculpture that represent the birth of Christ, the poet concludes,

             I know he held the child.
             I would remember him a father,
             If foster, tending.

With such faith Hollis Summers sends his book Occupant Please Forward. (pp. 253-54)

Harry Brown, "A Balanced Metaphysical," in Modern Poetry Studies (copyright 1976, by Jerome Mazzaro), Winter, 1976, pp. 252-54.

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Martin Levin