I offered to read and review The Road Home: A poet’s journey through AIDS by Harry F. Rey because he asked, and because I want to encourage new poets to publish; paper, eBook or web-site. As an aside, with the much talked about shortened attention span these days, poetry should be more popular than ever. But I digress. Publishing one’s work is an act of bravery; and poetry is inherently personal (or else, banal) so it deserves respect- by the poet or reviewer as well as the reader.
Perhaps the first thing to note is that aids, mentioned in the subtitle, is not a clearly defined character in the book. Whether that’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is not for me to say. Some readers may feel using the word in the title a ‘cheap trick’ while others will find the work ‘more universal’ in content since we all suffer from a terminal condition called ‘life’. As the cliche goes; no one gets out alive. These pieces should resonate with anyone who has learned that life is often a struggle and innocence is all too quickly lost. Although written by a gay man there are no intense sex scenes; some talk of intercourse (rather colloquially) but nothing prurient.
The work included in the collection is quite varied; traditional rhyming poetry intermixed with heartfelt raw prose. At times it seems the poet is selecting the format to match the subject; other selections feel forced. I find creating rhyming poetry most often frustrating; is an overworked ‘pretty’ presentation really better than a rougher selection that reveals more truth? Creating work that is perfectly pretty and deeply truthful may be the mark of an excellent poet; if so neither Mr Rey nor myself are that as of now. But we must find space for all our truths to be shared; the world is filled with imperfect people who identify with the struggles of others such as themselves.
That being said, I connect with many of the pieces and only have minor nits to pick about the book.
The poet has divided the work into four sections with titles reflecting ties to mythical themes. I don’t know if everything is presented in purely chronological order; I suspect so. This leads to some pieces not being in their most powerful places; I’ll list a few examples here.
The eighth selection (Shadow Soul) strikes me as the perfect opening piece:
There is a shadow on my soul
That visits me from time to time
It announces no presence
Nor seeks no welcome
It is simply here, it is simply mine
As noted above, I didn’t find aids either a subtle or obvious character; perhaps opening with this piece would edge it forward just a bit without distracting from the universal appeal.
There are three selections (pages 21-23) which if re-ordered, flow more fluidly:
21. Two Lost Boys
23. Choice/ Obsession
22. What I Wasn’t Told
This is but one example of the poet’s placing the strongest ending (to a Section or grouping) in the second-to-last place. This triptych is soon followed by Drug-fucked (page 26) which would be a powerful piece to end the section with the last three lines:
Fuck and stay fucked up
Live your life drug-fucked.
It’s not fair to have to follow that.
Truth be told, I don’t find the current section breaks particularly clear or meaningful- perhaps they are date-driven. For example Section 3 (The Wander) begins with The Journey Begins (page 31) then The Road Unknown (page 32). Using that first selection to end Section 2 would bring that section to a stronger close while introducing the new section. Then the next selection, with its subject of accepting one’s fate or current reality, would be a strong opening. The Road Unknown would work best as the first or last selection of a section.
At first the placement of the title piece as the next-to-last selection bothered me; was it another weakened ending? The last line of the piece (… the road’s my home… instead of the road home as in the title) would hint at a second volume or perhaps that “you can’t go home again”. Such a less certain ending appeals to me. Others might not constantly see selections as trios- I do. A reflection of a tech world filled with “back” and “next” buttons? So I reread the last three pieces in the book to see how they work together. The first of the last three is Morning Mist, followed by the dusk timeframe of the title piece, and ending with A dawn will break / And so will come the new day. Not my ending, but hardly a bad one.
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Some posts were written to submit to one or another college class, others were written in response to happenings in my own life, and some comment on the world around me. While these posts contain specifically gay content, everything I feel or experience is inevitably processed through the filter of my being a queer man of a certain age.