Review: 37 Psalms from the Badlands

Hosho McCreesh
Poetry
20 pages
5 ½” x 8 ½” chapbook
Edition of 70 copies
Edition #85
Kendra Steiner Editions
San Antonio, Texas
Order HERE
Review originally published on 8/12/09


I’m not a big fan of the stapled binding of these Kendra Steiner Editions, stapled flat through the cover and the back (I always wish they were saddle-stapled to make the crease a little easier to open and to give the otherwise beautifully done books — on colored-cardstock covers and thick-laid paper, with full-color cover printing — a more accessible feel.). They are, nonetheless, an extremely valuable asset and resource in the small press, a beautiful collection of some of the small press’ most talented lot. This is #85 in the Kendra Steiner Editions, with a print run of 70 copies; I believe they are now sold out, but I was lucky enough to get my copy, #59 of 70, from What to Wear During an Orange Alert?.

And now on to the poems. It is always such a joy to crack into an Hosho McCreesh book, as his writing is intense, personal yet universal, and unique. He is, hands down, one of my favorite poets out there, and coupled with having been to the Badlands myself on several occasions, even teaching school, building bunkbeds, and cleaning cemeteries on South Dakota Indian Reservations over many a summer, I had been excited to read this book for quite some time.

The chap is separated into 37 snippets about, inspired by, or attributed to, the Badlands — small buds of color and moments of bursting thought, not always complete or cohesive, but always intense and dripping with visual hot fudge and sprinkles. Some are incomplete abstract sketches, while others are clear observations of truly beautiful moments, each coming together here to form a terrain as bumpy and different as the Badlands, themselves.

McCreesh gives the Badlands intense personification, breathing life, faces, time, judgment, feelings into mountains and skies, rivers and rock, creatures and sand, writing many poems from the perspective of the land, and telling the secrets and stories of the indigenous peoples who had not survived here, putting their long-lost voices into the terrain. “Psalm #10,” for example:

Mountains & indigo sky, two lovers,
stubborn, insistent, tempestuous —
doomed to
eternally
collide.

He captures the sacred spirit of the untouched place, from talismans of long ago people and creatures, to the stillness and emptiness of the rocky desert at 4 a.m., to the peaceful calm of being alone for hundreds of miles in any direction, to the haunted lives of those ghosts now long gone, to the romantic western tales of dead outlaws and gunslingers, the latter demonstrated in “Psalm 28”:

Billy the Kid
terrified to die,
terrified of being forgotten,
carves his name
in sandstone.

One of the only negatives of the writing is the repeated us of the word “the” — the this, the that — and not the this doing something, just the this period, which can sometimes feel very telling. An example is “Psalm 12”:

Monsoons, & the door jambs swell,
the pages curl, the walls sweat.
The dry-damp must of pock-marked earth —
never enough rain
in
the desert.

In this example, when I remove the the’s (with the exception of the last one, which I like), I get a clean, abstract-yet-clear poem that is more showing than telling. It might just be me, but I feel like this is one tiny area where the work might be tightened up just a bit. The work is still beautiful, though, either way, and this is quite trivial in the big picture.

Hosho’s words deal with the battles of time and nature,

[ … ]
& yet, in the battle
between water & stone,
we all know which
eventually wins.

nature and humans,

[ … ]
& weathered terrain
no longer interested
in human explanations.

humans and time, nature and history — each colliding and struggling repeatedly throughout the ages, each trying to carve out its own niche and exist as long as it can, independent and unaware of outside factors, until faced with them in an endless cycle of balance. This subject of struggle is something Hosho can capture beautifully, and these pages let you know that he can do it in even the simplest and shortest of bursts.