Taking the Names Down from the Hill

by Philip Kevin Paul, Kevin Paul
ISBN: 0889711828

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A Review of: Taking the Names Down from the Hill
by Susan Briscoe

Philip Kevin Paul is not a cynical poet. He is not embarrassed by explicit spirituality or tender emotions. The poems of his first collection, animated by his First Nations heritage, bear titles such as "Toward the Beautiful Way", "Deer Medicine", "Ceremony", and "The Violet Light of Healing". The opening poem reveals the hopeful tone as well as the imagistic vocabulary of this collection:

A crow walks
its muddy
kneeless walk
a freshly plowed field.

In this light,
I see the crow
as crows are-

so much seems possible.

In his earnestness, however, Kevin Paul too often neglects his art. Though he clearly has an artist's vision of the world, he too seldom expresses it memorably: there is little figuration of any kind, no revelling in language, no experiment with form. While a few good images sustain some of these pieces, the syntax is usually prosy and the word choices always ordinary. This fault may be preferable to over-writing and it certainly makes his poems very accessible, but the plainness can leave the literary reader a little disappointed, as with this:

When it was common
for people to be
magic, they knew what
passing through the earth
really was, but they failed
to foresee how different
it would be for us,
the unenchanted.

I don't think Kevin Paul is actually one of the unenchanted, but these lines are devoid of magic. Now and then he approaches a lyricism and he sometimes falls upon a rare pleasing phrase like "a small ache of words," but most of the time the words don't ache or rejoice or do anything but plod across the page like his "kneeless" crow. Too many poems are marred by weak constructions, such as this in observing the dark eyes of a boyhood friend: "It is a darkness I dare not / concern myself with too much." This also leans too far toward the sentimental- the other pitfall that threatens this poetry. Most of the time Kevin Paul manages to just avoid it though, which is no easy task when dedicating poems to an assortment of dead family members.
Overall, it is hard not to appreciate Kevin Paul's sincerity and spiritual vision. I hope his next collection will give us more of this, but in more carefully crafted verse.

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