Like the title suggests, Adam Hughes’ latest collection from NYQ Books exists among holy entities— although often not the kind you would expect. There’s a playfulness in many of the poems, a grotesqueness coupled with love, politics, parking lot angels. There is fire and ash and a longing to be whole. Yet there is also music, nature, family. There are hymns, psalms, and nods to Christian, Buddhist, and Islamic beliefs. The book ultimately becomes a melting pot of Hughes’ personal definitions of the spiritual—and who can say otherwise?
He starts the collection with an ars poetica, admitting “I don’t write good / poems,” which oddly enough holds a bit of truth. This isn’t to say that he writes bad poems but rather he doesn’t seem to adhere to some of the more academic or serious edicts of poetry. In “An Instruction Manual for Flight,” he quite literally writes in the tone and style of an instruction manual, even going as far as writing a tongue-in-cheek addendum at the end in which he writes “Due to recent court action, we are obligated / to tell you that there is no medically proven method of human flight.” Similarly, the mood in many other poems feels lighthearted in the way of someone just discovering language. The word choice at times seems experimental, stemming from news stories, history, and curious tidbits, verging on being overworked or arbitrary. On more than one occasion, the similes feel a bit sloppy.
However, there is a refreshing factor to Hughes’ choices. He writes about the everyday and conflates it with the godly. He is unashamed in this way, unpretentious. Involving himself in various personas like Alfredo Ormando, Bobby Sands, daughter, or rabbit, he avoids the narcissism associated with a lot of contemporary poetry. He urges us to pay attention to natural description and personal unrest, as in “Parts Left Over After Translating Dichotomy”:
You think you’re looking at a coastline; you’re pretty
sure it’s a lake. See the lighthouse beams, swaying in the clouds
like low-lying fruit? You could pluck them and the lighthouse
would never know—it’s historic and unmanned and the light’s
as real as courage. You blink and everything stays the same,
which is not what you expected. You blink again.
He uses the body as a tool for revelation: “…the castaway alone, mouth open, collecting drops of rain, believing / that with enough ocean, the tongue will become a raft”.
Ultimately, Hughes wants the reader to join in his joy of language, to understand not only his own sorrows but those also of the world, and to feel, like he does, the fleeting nature of time. He wishes us to be shaken anew and to see the holy beckoning, in the ordinary but intimate shape of a person.