Poet, editor, and publisher, Le Hinton, has given poetry lovers a real gift. The Language of Moisture and Light, his fifth poetry collection, speaks in an honest vocabulary about love, memory, loss, and the constant struggle to be human. This books takes the reader to the center of those realities. Even the book’s covers, front and back, are mirror images of a barely opened door. So regardless our point of entry, we end up at the heart, exploring those realities, especially memory and loss.
The Language of Moisture and Light divides into two sections. The first, “Moisture,” the second, “Light.” These poems are open and accessible. Yet their language is rich, layered, and beautiful. Every now and then, I found my breath taken away. Hinton uses his skills quietly, crafting lines and stanzas with multiple opportunities for meaning. Let’s dive in to a few of these excellent poems.
“No Doubt About it (I Gotta Get Another Hat)” is a magnificent elegy to poet Chris Toll. I heard Le Hinton read this poem before I read it on the page. Hearing it first, I had the distinct memory of being stunned at the poem’s last line. The poem uses an interesting, almost Basquiat-like device– of crossing out words. This poetic tool takes the reader in a couple of directions at once. Its final lines “I know why he / is in ache” sums up and turns the poem in a devastatingly beautiful way. I have since learned that this poem will appear in the upcoming edition of Best American Poetry and I’m delighted that Le Hinton’s work will receive that kind of national exposure.
Hinton delves deeply into memory in many of his poems. “47th & Baltimore” explores an apartment building and the life it holds– or doesn’t hold.
Apartment 11 dances out the door for trick or treat
singing Handel’s hallelujah in Spanish.
Apartment 5 marvels at the hearts and flowers
engraved on toilet paper, gentleness on tiny corners.
It closes with these lines:
7 fills the building with bread
At midnight, Apartment 1 sits by the window, still waits
for her ghost to come home.
“First Day of School, 1958” is a frightening poem about race and memory. The speaker recalls being physically abused by white boys at school. Then he recalls the systematic way teachers, acting for the system, misunderstand the child and deepen the abuse. Hinton again uses crossed out words to great effect.
The “list poem,” as a form, shows up a couple of times in this collection. In “Metaphysics 101/ Open Book Test” Hinton uses this form beautifully. Some of this poem is amusing, some dives dangerously into the power of memory again. The poem is a list of questions including these:
1. If you owned a racehorse, what would you name it?
2. Do you always abbreviate the term et cetera? Why or y
It goes on:
9. Which word best describes your life:
10. What should you have done?
(No explanation required.)
In the poem “Epidemic,” Hinton uses the front-to-back and back-to-front effect well. The poem, is two 11-line sections, whose order is reversed. It works.
“Catching a Butterfly, March 8, 1971” is a magnificent persona poem in the voice of boxer Joe Frazier. You can hear both the threat and the sadness in Frazier’s words.
One of my favorite poems near the end of the collection is “Muse (Transposing)” In this poem, the speaker directly addresses Muse, the source of inspiration, in a hopeful and confident way. The speaker first remembers:
You were with Monk tempting
all those black keys
in a semi-dark chocolate room, 13
round tables full of liquor.
You were with Trane, backlit glistening
in the shadows, (bleeding the edge)
shedding thick, dissonant
Now, you are with me in the glare
of an Earl Grey morning.
White-empty walls, a blank page, 26
letters full of risk.
Le Hinton’s poetry leads, satisfies, and then surprises. All of this is just what good poetry can do when it is carefully crafted. The Language of Moisture and Light is a collection full of craft, in the shape of rich, strong poetry. I hope many people will find and read this book.