Max Garland,
Hunger Wide as Heaven
(Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2006)

Poetry is personal, and nowhere is this more apparent than in this thoughtful collection. In poem after poem Max Garland conveys how the religious impulse had shaped his youth and, ultimately, how he grew beyond this impulse to experience the world on his own terms. His voice is that of a mature artist who finds treasure everywhere. In the rural Kentucky of his childhood, life is richly textured, resplendent with a kind of holy trinity: the rhythms of the Bible venerated by his devoutly Methodist parents and grandparents, the crackle of early black-and-white television, and Elvis:

Sometimes I feel the heat of what Elvis means
when his voice stutters like a restless muffler
and I think the radio is God of this house....

For Garland, the world contains both fullness and emptiness. He is attuned to myriad sensual details, but he also seeks to strip flesh down to the bone. The turning point is evident in "Introduction to Philosophy," which describes his initial encounter with such philosophers as Kant and Kierkegaard while a college student in 1968. Of course, philosophy began long ago as a way to investigate being, independent of an established church-state. Its secular grounding changes Garland: "I studied enough to pass the course, gained 3 credits, lost my faith."

The remaining poems certainly reflect Garland's independent observations. His language is detached and precise, and he primarily focuses on nature. One senses that he is still immersed in the ongoing creation of self and his relation to the outside world. Moreover, it is evident that although he is no longer bound by his Methodist roots, he still remembers how they had once sustained him.

by Karen Trimbath
11 November 2006

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