Review of Made Beautiful by Use
“Made Beautiful By Use is Sean Horlor's first collection of poems. Horlor uses several saints as well as The Seven Heavenly Virtues to organize his poetic creating and experience. The first part of the book, however, is under the heading of "Empty Container." It holds (pardon the pun) a series of poems, each of which has in its title "In Praise of..." such as the lead poem "In Praise of Beauty," the best one, in my mind, of the series, and perhaps the whole collection.
The poems celebrate the most ancient journey, the poet's quest for purpose in his chosen craft (job?) and in the process he learns to assert the value of poetic perception.
"What we see shapes our imagining.
Poetry, clothes, a pop star's swagger.
Cologne in glass bottles."
The poems do what traditional poets of the past believed to be one of their chief purposes: to praise the world as they found it. Horlor handles the task of poetic cheerleader well and I do not mean that sarcastically. Horlor's use of language is both casual and candid and he often creates images in a line as opposed to using metaphors or similes. Look, for example, at these two lines from the poem "In Praise of Listening," a fine poem abut how the body listens: "Pitch. Timbre. Tone./The intonation of the word, Good-bye." In these two lines, we both hear and see the image.
Praise, of course, is one way the poet holds or subtley contains the world. The poet's secular purpose and progress also mirrors the spiritual and physical struggles of the various early medieval saints we encounter later in this collection.
The remaining poems are placed under four headings: St. Brendan, The Seven Heavenly Virtues, St. George, and Hagiographies. Each group in society, for example, sailors or travellers, has their own special saint they can call on to intercede on their behalf. Thus, the poems use the behaviour, struggles, or attitudes of the various saints or virtures they represent, to say something about the contemporary world.
For example, incidents from St. Brendan's life and times are vividly reimagined, as are those in the section called The Seven Heavenly Virtues, where the poet frequently seeks to articulate spiritual longing (sometimes it may be boredom) sitting side by side with teh quotidian or beside unexpected violence as in the poem "Fortitude": "Months ago I was cornered by a man/at the 24-hour Shell station. His bloody knuckles/marked my shirt with a red wing."
The poems I found least satisfying were in the section titled St. George the Dragon Slayer. The majority of the poems here are political, and Horlor as a young poet should be praised fortrying his hand at writing these kind of poems, but the target is too easy. Canada, no less, is practically singing to the choir. "...Here/is the situation as we find it:/difficult intelligence challenges./Those who accept its challenge/demand a careful presentation of the fact./Others, a weapon."
The jury is still out if the intimate voice, the well-crafted line, and the subtle observing eye of poetry is the best vehicle for arguing against American foreign or domestic policy. The problem, I think, is that too often political poetry comes off as didactic when it is not carefully balanced with the needs, interests, and experience of the individual in contrast to the preogatives of power and the myopic perceptions of idealogues.
I do not intend to make a rule here for writing political poetry. I merely mention this as one way of writing political poetry and my preference in poetry. I am also thinking here of the fine contemporary Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert as an example of what I mean and his brilliant political poems written in opposition to the authoritarian regime in Poland throughout the fifties, sixties, and seventies.
In short, Horlor succeeds as a poet when he imaginatively enters the mind of a long-ago saint or evokes the modern cityscape and the variety of experiences found there. He is less satisfying when he enters the murky world of American politics.”
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