Review of When Angels are Born by Ron Starbuck

Review of When Angels are Born. By Ron Starbuck (Saint Julian Press)

‘The Holy Cloth of Ceaseless Consciousness’

It always seems to me that the reviewer of a collection of poems, especially one distilled through the phases of a maturing vision, is rather like crossing a marsh, finding solid tussocks on which to tread. It is the flowing water beneath that holds the story of the creation across which to make one’s way. The footfall is arbitrary, and sometimes seemingly presumptuous.

The reviewer brings his own weight with him, and perhaps always his dubious balance governs the selection. Leaving depressions in the journey is unavoidable. That acknowledged, one is propelled willy nilly to leap in, or likely to sink in too much reflection.

The angels born in this book are ignited through relationships; lovers, creatures, momentary joys and solid memories. Starbuck seems a man at peace with his world of ideas, belief and himself. That is encapsulated in his Afterword.

‘My hope as a poet is that these poems will help the reader to see more clearly, to offer some clarity to your own vision of life and sense of self, and how your life, the self, the soul, or the human psyche are constantly changing and evolving through all your relationships, through love.’

For Starbuck all encounter holds the essence of the universal. From the first tributes to personal fulfilment
When you breathe in, I must/in turn breathe out.

You are the first breath/that enters into me each morning

To the philosophy derived from special moments of novelty
In Pienza, we walked
down stone weary streets,
old with memories,
long before
we were ever born

or the effortless conflating of both the individual and universal as in the symbolism of the Monarch butterfly, a play on both the name and the mythology

A mystery whose color I cannot clearly disclose or discern,
reminding me of a near friend, whose most intimate looks and gestures
are a language unto her own.

For me this collection became most vivid in the specific ordinary, and uniquely personal as in his memory of a childhood in Leavenworth Kansas (Saint John’s Church)in which the approach is as detailed as in a dream, the punctuation of the last line stands as clean and clear as a spire caught in a shaft of sunlight.

towards Easton, Millwood, and Potter,
down a blue ribbon of long winding highway
with high rolling hills and several old
county roads of black top and fossilized
chert, stands a white wooden church,

I was, in all this loving, sometimes relieved to find some anger, some human outrage when angels are not born but destroyed (Angels Weeping-The Culture Wars)

let’s sharpen our teeth today
on one another
on the bones of memory
and the fear we eat

and some good fierce longing as in Dancing Like Lightning

the single white point, that turns
and in that turning
whirls about and pirouettes
to flash and burst
across the undulating sky

What this reveals is more about my own fallibility as a critic than anything intrinsic in the poems. I confess to seeking for the unanswered, the uncertain, the impulse of longing, rather than the assurances of belief. Starbuck’s biblical (and parallel religious mythological studies) inform his vocabulary and his intonations: (They are saved, and sing aloud/of Thy righteousness Lord./Their broken hearts and spirits/are healed and made whole.) and for many readers these will echo the familiar, and reassuring pathways to understanding the consistency of a devout Religious, but for me the improvised carried the light; brighter, fragmentary, and thereby sharper, through being ephemeral.

Stitching memories together as sutras,
one thought after another, woven into
the holy cloth of ceaseless consciousness

or this from Fall Has Finally Come

long, sultry symphony
of the cicada that I always
miss as the warmest days
lengthen into Indian Summer.

This is a brave collection of self revelation, and one in which a poet’s life of divine certainty is sampled; rather as a taster might determine the maturing of port, in a glass cage above the oak barrels yielding the final blend Each reader will select differently , and that is as it should be.

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