Advice from the Lights

There is a wobbly wooden table next to my bed where I keep several books that I have started reading but have not finished, most of which are poetry books. I pick up whatever book is calling to me, read until I can no longer read, turn down the corner of the page, and close the book until the next time it calls to me. I just googled "what's it called when you turn down the corner of a page" 🤦🏻‍♂️

I knew "Advice from the Lights" by Stephen Burt was good when I looked back through the book after finishing it and saw very few dog-eared pages. For the most part, I couldn't put it down.

"Advice from the Lights" by Stephen Burt

There are several poems that reflect back on the poet's childhood and adolescent experiences from the 1980's, and several others that seemed to be dealing with and exploring gender through a retrospective lens, as if trying to make sense of those confusing feelings from decades ago. I really connected with many of the poems and found that multiple readings revealed something new each time. But that's what good poetry does.

Here is an excerpt from the poem "Pastorale"...

An excerpt from "Pastorale"

"...for such objects, it's work not only to stay together, but not to look hurt, to appear, though worse for wear, nevertheless worn out of loyalty and love, so that we take, from the loosening fabric, what memory will give, possessions we already trust..."

I am reading the lines over and over, falling deeper in love with them, especially "what memory will give" ... and now I want to go hug my closet and apologize for sending the worse-for-wear items to the bins hidden from daylight, down from the hangers where they were once trusted and loved.

There are also several poems about different creatures like bugs and crustaceans where the poet seems to be identifying with various physical features. Each one of these poems in itself is interesting, but even more curious are the similarities that can be drawn between them.

In the poem "Hermit Crab" the first line is "That shell is pretty, but that shell is too small for me." And the end of the poem, "if I have a body that's wholly my own then it isn't mine. For a while I was protected by what I pretended to be." I just love these lines. Who has never felt at least some small measure of this?

And in the poem "Roly Poly Bug" we feel the speaker's longing to be seen. The poem begins with, "Because I can't ever appear as I would like to appear, I once tried to make it so you couldn't see me at all." And ends with, "...but I'll never let on how I look underneath. I could always make something else of myself. I could be having a ball."

The poem "Cicadas" has a beautiful line... "remember why they can't help but leave these hollow parts that were not so much theirs as them."

The entire book leaves me with these feelings of memory and self and identity swirling around, urging me to write about my own adolescence, daring me to make sense of this journey.





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