I once wrote in this column that Michael Odom’s poetry reminded me in certain aspects—not in every way, of course, because he is not derivative; his voice is truly original and unique—of the poetry of Dylan Thomas. Startling imagery, unexpected words yoked together by violence, a certain defiant voice ... when I read Odom, I'm reminded of Thomas’ "Do Not Go Gentle" and "Sullen Art."
Some of the poetry in Odom's recent collection Selene possesses that same defiance, and I think these poems may appeal especially to men of a certain age – either those in their early twenties or those in their late 40s (like me).
Why? Because these two age groups are connected by their relationship to ideals and the hopes they carry for their lives.
The twentysomethings dismiss the 9-t- 5 treadmill and believe that life holds more for them, that they'll overcome that treadmill soon enough; the fortysomethings dismiss that same treadmill even as they recognize they’ve been walking on it for the past twenty years.
In either case, Odom’s opening poem “The simple strength of men who never know…” offers a catalogue of all the ways that people, men especially, define conventional success in this treadmill world:
Their climbing grasps, like primates, For leafier nests, prettier mates, shinier cars, And Power, the lying god…
Elsewhere, he reminds us how women receive such poor tributes from men. How men’s appreciation falls short—extremely short—of the beautiful creation that is a woman. To the goddess whose name is the title of this collection, he says:
We poor animals, men, watch breasts, Selene, The way children were taught to sing along to TV lyrics with a bouncing ball
Our imaginations fall short in many ways, and we miss what is extraordinary in what is seemingly ordinary. Imagine the desert, for instance. It is just a bare, empty stretch of hot sand and dirt, right? But in Odom's handling, he describes it in the following majestic, Thomistic (to my ear, anyways) line:
Under the tutelage of Orion's arm Lording above in the ocean's leprous cousin
That, my best beloveds, is breath-taking language ... the kind of inspiring, eloquent language we just don't find in many places anymore (including, unfortunately, the recent presidential inauguration address).
Ok, enough already. You get it: I dig this poetry a lot. I would urge you to seek it out.
Finally, what about that note of defiance in Odom's work that reminds me of Thomas? He suggests to us that the only idealism that will ever seem to last is the idealism of art, of creative vision. That earlier poem above, about the primates grabbing for success, ends on a splendid visionary statement:
...I know a boy much smaller Who carries in his pocket a collapsed sun.
This is the kind of language that we all need--this is what I want to be reminded about in the course of my own treading. While I’m at my desk, caught up with emails and projects, caught up in ephemera of all kinds, there's a part of me that is eternal. That’s what Odom's Selene tells us.
This collection is appropriate to any season of the year, but it seems especially appropriate now, in the early weeks of the new year. Selene is an ideal companion as you look ahead, plan your year, and realize -- please, my dear friends, remember -- that there is still so much you can change about your life. It is never too late.