“In the cinema of sleep/I dream of the moon”
There is a legend that the celebrated Chinese poet Li Po drowned after trying to drunkenly embrace the reflection of the moon in a river. It is likely that this legend is not true; however, it does illustrate the obsession with the moon that has long characterized the work of poets from all over the world. In his new chapbook, Phased II, poet George Held shares his own fascination with the lunar. In each of these poems, Held shows us a new way of looking at the moon while helping to draw us closer to it.
There are many different moons in this chapbook, some of which a reader may be unfamiliar with. Held seems to relish this chance to introduce us to them. In Phased II there are red moons, blue moons, black moons, and yellow moons. There is also a “Broken Moon” that “drifts/naked in the black sky.” This is a beautifully tragic poem about a frail moon that also reminds us of our own fragility in the cosmos. In “The Moon Is” we are shown an impenetrable moon with “no entrance though it entrance”, the poet clearly inspired to create fun wordplay despite the sternness of his subject.
Held may not have found an entrance into the moon itself, but in Phased II he finds ways for the moon to enter us. “Baleful Moon” is a great description of a moon but also a witty discussion on the meaning of the word baleful. In “Moonlit” the moon shines upon a widow’s lovemaking with a new man. And the new moon of “Empty Nights” itself becomes a kind of absent lover to the narrator. Held brings us in closer proximity to the moon most forcefully in the poem “Gripped”, in which the narrator shares that the “full moon soaring/in April/grips me by her beams.” These brilliantly musical lines causing us to contemplate our own lunar connections.
My favorite poems in this chapbook are Held’s haikus. Held brings these moons to life with the succinct details and quick movements that create the best haikus. In one of them, the combination of moon, sand, sea, and sky becomes a kind of flag. In another, a crescent moon is “inhaling aroma”, thus capturing the longing one often feels when gazing upon a crescent moon. He also brings his full palette of colors to these haikus, juxtaposing a “cobalt Atlantic” with a “full red moon.”
This chapbook is a sequel of sorts to Held’s Phased which was released in 2008. Personally, I love the idea of a series of chapbooks being written about the moon and I hope Held writes more. The greatest strengths of Phased II are its continuity and its focus. It never strays far from the grip of the moon, and is therefore able to hold a grip on a reader. This helps each of the poems to build off each other even when an individual line or pun fails to land. This book is a cohesive collection of perspectives on the moon. I suggest reading it, pouring yourself a glass of wine, and then gazing at the moon encouraged by the knowledge that somewhere George Held is probably watching it too.
Benjamin Schmitt is the Best Book Award and Pushcart nominated author of two books, Dinner Table Refuge (PunksWritePoemsPress, 2015) and The global conspiracy to get you in bed (Kelsay Books, 2013). His poetry has appeared in Sakura Review, Hobart, Grist, Wisconsin Review, Two Thirds North, and elsewhere. You can read his scary stories for kids in the Amazon Rapids app. He lives with his wife and daughter in Seattle where he also reviews books, curates a reading series, and teaches workshops to people of all ages.