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Babylon in a Jar: Poems Paperback – April 25, 2001
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About the Author
ANDREW HUDGINS is the author of several books of poems, including Saints and Strangers, The Glass Hammer, and Ecstatic in the Poison. A finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, he is a recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships as well as the Harper Lee Award. He is a professor emeritus of Ohio State University.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
I couldn"t stand still watching them forever,
but when I moved
the grackles covering
each branch and twig
together into flight
and for a moment in midair they held
the tree"s shape,
the black tree
peeling from the green,
they were its shadow or its soul, before
as grackles heading south for winter grain fields.
was just a chinaberry tree,
the birds were simply grackles.
made from this world and where I stood in it.
But you can"t know how long
I stood there watching.
And you can"t know how desperate I"d become
each step on the feet of my
how bitter and afraid I was
matching step after step with the underworld,
my ominous, indistinct and mirror image
extreme and antic nothings
the ground I walked on,
elongated and foreshortened parodies
foot lowering itself
onto its shadow.
And you can"t know how I had tried to force
the moment, make it happen
before it happened—
not necessarily this
though this is what I saw:
black birds deserting the tree they had become,
for a moment in midair,
the chinaberry"s shadow for a moment
after they had ceased to be
meaning after meaning—
birds strewn across the morning like flung gravel
they found themselves again as grackles,
found each other,
and headed there,
while I stood before
the green, abandoned tree.
Copyright © 1998 by Andrew Hudgins. Reprinted by permission of Houghton
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I can detect no overarching theme connecting the poems of BABYLON IN A JAR, as there is in "After the Lost War". For the most part, the 38 poems are episodes from Hudgins's life or imagination -- such as watching grackles take off from a chinaberry tree, making room for drunk fans to get to their seats high up in the nose-bleed section of a baseball stadium, teaching night class, spinning out after hitting black ice, and snagging one's keys on the overhead power line by carelessly tossing them in the air while walking to the house.
Formal structure is minimal. About half the poems are written with broken lines and staggered indentations. I was unable to discern a consistent reason for those breaks and staggered indentations, which inclines me to think of the practice as willful gimmickry.
There are a few striking images, and some of Hudgins's situations are moderately interesting. But only two of the poems (one being the title poem, "Babylon in a Jar") were sufficiently arresting that I marked them to re-read some day. On the other hand, I found two of the poems to be outright bad, and the subjects of too many others were simply weird or ugly. My relative dissatisfaction with the book may be because my aesthetic sensibilities and outlook on the world are too far removed from those of Robert Hudgins. But it also may be that BABLYON IN A JAR is an inferior effort.
One last criticism: The tail ends of at least five lines of "Plunge" on page 38 are missing. It appears that Houghton Mifflin, in publishing this 2002 paperback edition, simply photocopied the pages from its 1998 hardcover edition, but in the case of page 38 did so less than perfectly, losing a little content in the process.