Philip Booth is a poet of the world about him. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he does not look at himself, contemplate himself, and then deliver obscure masses of words that have such private meaning as to be largely unintelligible. The reader can know what Booth is writing about and what he means. The poetry is complex only because the world the poet is writing about is complex. Certainly Booth is a poet who wants his poetry to be understood, not simply felt.
As a poet Booth utilizes many aspects of the world about him, the Christian tradition, myth and legend, other persons and their lives, and his own experience. Examples of his use of the scene about him are many in his published volumes. The title poem of LETTER FROM A DISTANT LAND is a Thoreauvian account of his life directed to Henry Thoreau, his “distant kinsman.” Booth reports on himself by looking about him, halfway between an airfield and Walden Pond, as he puts it. Like Thoreau a century before, Booth sees the variety of life in detail: little girls climbing an apple tree, a hen pheasant, a grosbeak in the pine, and airplanes in the sky, jet-powered night-fighters which wing over his home in the dark. Writing about Thoreau’s former hut at Walden Pond, now a public park, he invokes Emerson’s law of compensation for Sunday lovers and comments on beer cans that now float where Thoreau drank from the water of the pond. Other particular instances of his description of scenes familiar to him appear in “Green Song,” “Crossing,” and “Shag,” all in LETTER FROM A DISTANT LAND, and “Jake’s Wharf,” “Convoy,” and “Maine,” in THE ISLANDERS.
The poet’s use of Christian traditions and literature is found in such poems as “Admission of Guilt,” “Adam,” and “Original Sequence,” all in his first-published volume. The last-named poem makes the concept of time one of the consequences of Adam’s transgression. When Eve threw at God’s feet the brown core of the apple she and Adam have eaten, God set time in motion. Booth’s deity is something of a New England farmer, walking on a cool day in His orchard and musing in contemplative pride on ownership, His handiwork, and His apples—Kings, Winesaps, McIntoshes, and Northern Spies.
Booth is often at his best when looking at the experience of others and writing about it, whether writing of persons or animals. An excellent example is “The Lost Boy,” a poem about an eight-year-old who slips off to a marsh with his father’s fishing rod upon a summer afternoon, leaving his parents and a hastily organized search party to hunt for him at dusk. The boy experiences turtles, frogs, bugs, and hunger, as well as rescue by a red helicopter and his father’s sternness. All this becomes a dream for the child and, the following day, a source of schoolboy boasting in the play yard. In “Builder,” in THE ISLANDERS, the reader meets Mace Eaton, who talks and works from November to May, building a boat. The talk is of the sea and Mace’s boat, the Annie Gott, and the work proceeds from a model half-hull through keel, transom, stem, and ribs, to the placing of a last coat of glossy paint upon the hull that will sail steady and true even in a storm. In “Maine” Booth describes how thrifty people in that state employ old auto engines to saw cordwood, drive tractors, propel boats, and...
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