Book Review: The Humbling and Other Poems
Reviewed by Joshua Ryan Bligh
A passionate love letter to poetry, swirling with buoyant optimism and a readiness to look beyond the horizon of self
Robert J. Tiess’s The Humbling and Other Poems may be a collection of poems, but it branches beyond this by its final page.
The seven sections of the collection drift across almost every romantic or poetic topic known to humankind, from cosmic pontification among the heavens to quiet lines about endless love at home. There is a thread through them all, a shimmering connective filament of compassion, humility, and warmth that makes the disparate thoughts ring with a tuned cohesion.
Then once the final poem drifts into silence, the final quarter of the work moves through chapters of denouement, including an autobiography, an index of poetry terms, four essays, and an extensive list of recommended reading. Tiess is a poet in love with poetry, prepared to help the reader find a similar path to the joys of the medium.
What makes this collection work is its breadth, its boldness to take the author’s aperture and turn it full wide-lens. Tiess works his way through multiple rhyme schemes (or no rhyme), delves into dozens of topics, and fiddles with form all before cycling back and revisiting previous themes in a different combination of the three.
Some of the poems feel like liturgical prayers, others like stream of consciousness; some have rigid structure, others abandon order for playful architecture. Whatever your preference, all readers will find a poem that will reverberate with their tastes and style.
There are allusions to the Classical world and images pulled from various mythologies: both hallmarks of the poetic tradition. You will ride to the stars and back, held aloft by the author’s continual sense of warm compassion, diligent curiosity, and grounded humanity. So while the collection might not wade into new or darker waters, it still provides an ebullient familiarity for some readers while introducing others to the various shapes and colors that poems can appear in.
This medley however means that while there may be something for everyone, it also means that a number of the poems may not latch onto each reader as much. Some pieces have me nodding along when they hit the notes and niche preferences I have personally, while others I found myself skimming so I could get to the next one that would strike home. Still, there is wisdom and heart to be found in each of the poems, with a hum of truth about them that leaves you with a pleasing glow.
The Humbling offers a tastefully bated hook for readers who have not yet found the joys that poetry can bring. As the title suggests, the work rings with a refreshing humility that only ever welcomes in the reader, showcasing the shapes poetry can take and the places it can bring you without any erudite gate-keeping, dense lexical conceit, or any other high-brow obfuscation. These poems are a pleasing and cozy showcase of the genre that are sure to delight.
Print Length: 217 pages
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