Reflections on the Poems

by Valerie Horton

 

we can see so little
of life  of love
all ends in sorrow
as sunlight burns us down

This untitled poem (#305) captures the central question at the heart of much of the poetry in this volume.  What do we understand about life?  How do we deal with love, with death, with loss?  For decades, my brother Bruce Horton turned to poetry to contemplate these questions.  Most of his poems are short questions, asking something of the universe, and sometimes drawing a conclusion from what he had seen or experienced.

In some poems, Bruce is unhappy and angry such as in poem #310, “whose commands do you heed as hours savagely tear.”  But most of his poems surrender to love and beauty, such as poem #240.

great things

i can imagine
more beauty than yours
but not easily

i suppose someone’s smile
is warmer than yours
at least it’s possible

i can dream great things
but few as breath-taking
as you

 

He found meaning in beauty and many of these pieces touch on the concept.  In poem #275 “in beauty”, he says, “go in beauty, for what else is there, that is worthwhile.”  Bruce did not see beauty in the conventional sense.  For him, beauty was a gestalt of good, peacefulness, and harmony in the Navajo meaning of the concept.  Beauty is ever struggling for an internal state of balance while leaning toward goodness.  In one poem fragment he touches on his northern roots, saying:

beauty grows across the north
when cold shatters everything
making joy the only hope

 

He is talking to someone or some entity in many of these poems.  He directs his thoughts toward an unidentified person, such as in poem #297: “you watch, don’t you?” or poem 197, “do you remember?”  Often the poems appear to be addressing his wife, Emiko, or depending on the timeline, the woman he was seeing at the time.  He also frequently addresses the gods, almost always in the plural.  Bruce did not have an easy relationship with the concept of deity.  In poem #286 he says, “gods’ gifts are cruel,”  and in an untitled 2009 poem, he says; “my key to heaven’s door is fake, how else could it be, all roads to gods are lies, written in great letters.”  Bruce once told me that he liked the Shinto concept of a thousand little gods and would say, “I hope the thousand little gods agree.”  Most likely, he saw god as a force of nature.  Being raised a Presbyterian, he could never quite escape early indoctrination into protestant theology.

I thought I knew my brother well, but after studying his writing in depth, I am humbled by the mysteries revealed in his poems.  My brother led a semi-vagabond, expatriate, and scholarly life, and yet little of that daily life, appears in his choice of poetic content.  These poems do not deal with politics, war, drugs, or alcohol, and they only rarely touch on living across the globe or on his family.  He seldom mentions the daughter he loved beyond the power of a poet’s words.  Bruce turned to poetry to explore deeply internal and often intensely personal questions and mysteries.

In a 1990 letter he wrote about his poems, he said, “Probably I have too much ‘ego’ invested in them.  If I have a question, I guess it’s whether this kind of nonsense is amusing? As far as I can tell, it doesn’t mean anything, but I enjoyed writing them.”  I find meaning in these poems, and I published this volume to give other readers the chance to share the internal world of one northern man.  In the end, these poems continually ask what does it mean to get lost in the awe of beauty, to love, to suffer, or to die?  This book is filled with the poetry of a man who remains tied to his northern roots as he journeys ever deeper within while remaining afar.

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The Inner Journey North by Valerie Horton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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