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Thursday, December 4, 2008

BOOK REVIEW- Justin Hyde- Down where the Hummingbird goes to Die

Justin Hyde
Down where the Hummingbird goes to Die
Tainted Coffee Press 2008
58 pages $6.00 U.S.A. (includes shipping worldwide)
Buy it here:

Iowa born Justin Hyde is one of the best American poets writing for the non-subsidised small press today. His first book 'Down where the Hummingbird goes to Die' is a terse, confessional examination of the young poet’s experiences laid bare. The subject matter of Hyde’s narrative poems loosely shuffles amongst his childhood memories, encounters with drifters or work mates and reflections on his troublesome relationship with his wife, family and in laws.

The strength of Hyde’s writing is centered on the authenticity and consistency of the speaker’s voice, presumably Hyde’s. The reader is quickly immersed into the author’s unstable world and you never feel that Hyde is ever holding anything back or contriving events for effect. The tone of the poems is often sad or regretful, while at other times, defiant, scathing of American society and its values and the author’s inability to fit in.

In ‘to my coworkers’ the speaker says,
‘I’m a bullet
it’s purpose’.

In ‘in laws over the dinner’ Hyde morally questions the fetish of accumulating wealth at the disadvantage of others,
‘and dad in law
figures me for a drunkard and smooth brain
because I rehabilitate criminals
for chump change
instead of raping my share
of the free market’.

Yet overall, this critical appraisal of America is largely marginalized. In ‘postcard from iowa’ the speaker says from the perspective of sneaking captain from a flask in a public library,
‘world goes on out there
and i’ve never had much interest in it
beyond grabbing a piece of ass’.

Hyde’s main focus appears to be on cataloguing the disintegration of his family. It is difficult for me to say this, but there appears to be an essential irony in his work. Although he strongly empathises with the lowly paid and under classes of American society, the speaker of Hyde’s poems largely ignores or despises his own family. He condemns the values of his wife in ‘steinbeck at the river’,
‘she sleeps right now
of bills paid on time
and a freshly mowed lawn’.

And in ‘what have you done in the real world’ the speaker/poet rails against ‘middle class values’ of love, a clean house,
‘she thinks there is a purpose
to this mindless suffering
we pass off as life,
whereas i take the thing straight on
no bullet proof vest
down where the hummingbird goes to die’.

In reading this volume three or four times I am left with the impression that Hyde’s nihilistic headlong search for meaning, symbolised in this desperate clutching at earthly experience, is part bravado, part a stripping back of pretense- which leaves the poet totally vulnerable to ‘a bitter handful/ of broken dreams’ (‘postcard from iowa’) and with a cynical attitude towards love, ‘and they fucked/ when they still believed love/was’ (‘the brittle woman leaning on her walker’). The poet is left cold and brittle as when the speaker expresses regret at his adolescent treatment of his father ‘In twenty-eight years old and five days sober,’
‘i was cold
and hard
as the inside
of the casket
i wished for him’.

Reading previous reviews of Hyde’s book, the most pointed criticism of his work is that his lower case, sparse style too closely resembles that of Charles Bukowski, the famous underground LA writer. Hyde is particularly sensitive of this issue. In a recent interview with Aleathia Drehmer from the Guild of Outsider Writers Hyde dismisses this charge by stating he didn’t start writing until 2005 and hadn’t read the Buk until after then. In ‘fuck nietzsche’, one of his better poems, he concludes,
‘i like you Nietzsche,
i say aloud
consider you a friend,
but sometimes like bukowski
you talk out of your asshole’. In ‘bukowski sorting mail’ in Literary Chaos Print Issue #1 he continues this irreverent attitude to the flophouse guru,
had some soul and
depth of

but more often
he was a
sorting mail’.

I think I’ve rambled on for far too long. I tell you straight. This is an excellent buy. This is a writer worth stalking. And this book costs less than a bottle of beer down at Darling Harbour.

If you are interested in reading more work from Justin Hyde check out the comprehensive NYQ guide to his 2008 publications:

George Anderson