Back in the days of Keats and Shelley, lyric poetry was considered a young person’s game. But now that love, lust and the popular carpe diem theme are (mostly) the province of singer-songwriters, I find myself receiving local poetry collections packed with verses about aging, natural death, and the loss of strength, health and memory. (Maybe that has something to do with Vermont’s demographics, too.)
Light reading it’s not. But the right poet can take these punishing subjects and turn them into lyrics you want to reread ... perhaps even memorize so you can pull out the words for solace when you need them. T. Alan Broughton, a Burlington resident and retired UVM English professor, is such a poet. The pieces in his new collection A World Remembered are straightforward but far from simple. Many tell stories memorializing those who have departed this world, ranging from the author’s parents to a well-loved house cat to an unnamed Palestinian. And most of the poems circle back to the nagging concern Broughton voices in “Leaving a Mark”: “I know what you’re afraid of — how when we go / it all goes with us.”
The terror of obliteration threads its way through this work devoted to preserving something from that fate. Though the author declares himself a nonbeliever in any afterlife, his words often take on the tone and force of prayer, such as in his invocation to the sun from “Lamentation in a Time of Need,” a poem about 9/11:
Tell us the fiery plunge, heat that melted
steel and stone was not what your making
was about. Even your indifference is better
than mortal hatred. You are not love
but can teach us to love with the warmth
that brings out leaves to shade the nest,
that helps us learn to sing.
A World Remembered by T. Alan Broughton, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 128 pages. $17.95.