Raven Rants, Raves & Reviews
Reviewed by Christopher J. Jarmick
A Guest in All Your Houses is a collection of poetry by award-winning poet Peter Ludwin. Surprisingly, this is Ludwin’s first full-length collection of poetry (there was a chapbook several years ago). Ludwin began writing poetry in the late 1960s and has written seriously during the last twenty years. Several of the poems in this collection have been previously published in literary magazines and anthologies, but others are seeing the printed page for the very first time.
The poems in A Guest in All Your Houses identify specific American West locations and explore personal themes of history and culture through a of variety of voices. Some of the work is personal, some contemplative, some freewheeling and humorous, and one poem in this collection are you are sitting down? even rhymes.
Ludwin’s poems convey the perspective of a guest staying in “houses,” loosely defined as places he visited or stayed in during his frequent travels. The places became part of him, and each poem is a vignette that lets us hear the voices of the people, ghosts, prairie grasses, and adobe houses that are part of the physical landscape and cultural soul of the American West. We also find nineteenth-century farm wives, hippies, Native American spirits, pioneers, religious fundamentalists and other visitors, communing with raw nature and coming to terms with the chaos of progress. Most of the poems are set in places few of us will ever visit.
The collection embraces spiritual quests, dreams and deep emotions, and employs sensual language to impart its subtle, quiet themes. The 56 poems in this 89-page book are divided into three sections: “Compass Points,” “Four Corners,” and “Fugitive Kind.”
The book opens with the 13-line "Acoma Codex":
you reach for Adam’s rib
but pull out instead
a handful of pinyon nuts
a small pocket of wind.”
This leads into the poem “Notes from a Sodbuster’s Wife, Kansas 1868:”
I tried. Lord knows I tried.
Survived the locusts and even snakes
that fell from the ceiling at night,
slithering between us in bed.
And the book ends with the poem “Terlingua Return.”
Can mere aroma distill spirit?
Convince me that, like the yucca,
like the slumbering desert itself,
I do not die, I only re-awaken?
And, in between, Ludwin shares masterfully-constructed phrases evoking memorable images. For example, in “Incoming”:
Cottonwoods wear the silver of shrouds,
their massive trunks so deeply grooved
they form brows tormented by thought.
And in “Monument Valley”:
she imagines her son
outlined in glowing rock,
his bandana an illumined petroglyph.
But then she feels her fingers
and knows their unconscious rubbing
shapes the owl that pecks her heart.
From “Vigas at the Sagebrush Inn, Taos”:
..... If form
changes, must content always follow?
It’s July this morning in Taos.
I walk out into warmth
rising like freshly baked bread
From “Midnight, Steens Mountain”:
To be human now
means to hang my skin
from the nearest branch
and step with no bones
into the circle.
And from “Interpretation”:
Wind as breath infusing root. Connected.
Curator of story and myth, it blows
over endless horizons of corn.
Remembers the sound grass would make
when the wind wove through,
when earth was loom,
grass the stitch that held.
And, in case you’re still not convinced Peter Ludwin’s collection should be a guest in all your houses, here’s a final excerpt, from “Driving North toward the Hopi Reservation”:
Filets of earth
lie exposed like salmon flesh
torn apart by bears.
The earth says My grasses sweep away
to horizons like the sea,
and I say I am the wind,
I will be a guest in all your houses.
Christopher J. Jarmick is a Seattle-based writer and poet. He curates and hosts two monthly readings, is President of the Washington Chapter of PEN and sits on the board of PEN-USA in Los Angeles. He co-wrote the suspense thriller The Glass Cocoon in 2001, and his latest book of poetry is Ignition (2010). Radio Pictures; Aural Anxieties is his spoken word Cd recorded with Pulitzer-nominated poet Michael C. Ford (produced by Kevin Gershan, April, 2009). E-mail him at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.