David Herrle reviews Ward Abel’s LITTLE TOWN gODS

Little-Town-gods-by-L.-Ward-Abel-Cover-1published by Folded Word, 2016
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Compounded it with dust, whereto ‘tis kin. – Hamlet to Rosencrantz

OK. I’m just going to come out and say it: Ward Abel is to the Parker Posey of chapbooks. In other words, Abel is to the chapbook what Posey is to the indie film. I’m not sure exactly what I mean by that, but when I think it without thinking, it makes perfect sense. As much as I hate the term, Abel (like Parker) brings gravitas to whatever artistic work he’s involved in, and he’s one prolific fellow. As if his writing talent isn’t enough, this jerk also excels at musicianship and vocals in the band Abel, Rawls and Hayes (ABH)! His music is cousin to his poetic sensibility: both have a “down-home” patina over a hip sage brain.

What I marvel at about many chapbooks in general and Ward in particular is the power of brevity and the ability to do something much more difficult than saying too much: saying very little. The urge to say too much, which I’m cursed with, is often frustration with not being able to say enough about something (a feeling, a fear, love, an epiphany, sex) that’s ultimately language-evasive – quite simply beyond words. As I always say, only clichés can describe the indescribable, but those who refuse to cave in to clichés take a rougher, futile path, and their successful artistry lies mostly in their literary charm and innovation. Other authors, like Ward, describe the describable so uniquely and with such awe, that one wonders how much more unique and awesome the indescribable must be. (See? I just said too much. As usual.)

Little Town gods contains 15 poems, and almost each poem is no more than about 15 lines long, give or take a few lines. But by the end of the chap, one feels full, quenched with pure water rather than sugary, bloating soda. Again, this is the powerful product of talented literary brevity and economical composition. And, most important, the patience and coolness to avoid sweaty and blustery battles with the ineffable.

Some favorite lines and phrases:

“Going fast or leaving slow/gone is gone.”

“I apologize/for the language of idiots, but/never for the perfection of decay.”

“The red light on top/of the old folks’ high-rise/warns death to low flights…”

“This place/has always gone on/without me.”

“Where churches/and dirt roads defy GPS.”

“…walls still louder than the silence of brick walls still louder than the silence of brick…”

“Cold, windy/in the rearview I catch/a flash of old eyes./They reflect the journey./Because shoes never lie.”

“Enlightened, the pine shade makes the /priestly translate/with no words.”

“…the technology/of gods in whom all good things outlive/for others to exhume.”

To what revered literary stuff can such words be compared? Well, Joe Conrad, for one! Consider these few excerpts from his ever-quotable Heart of Darkness:

“[T]he silence of the land went home to one’s very heart – its mystery, its greatness, the amazing reality of its concealed life.”

“I felt how big, how confoundedly big, was that thing that couldn’t talk, and perhaps was deaf as well.”

“The sea always is the same.”

“We live in the flicker…”

Ward isn’t a poet of today. He writes in a no-time where the present is already dust and the dust is alive with ancient presence. This lyrical and enviably understated but profound book is off the grid, overgrown with kudzu, loamy, Gautama-silent and patient, content – and amused – that it will be outlived and buried by a wordless wisdom and “the perfection of decay.”


Read two excerpts from the book here.