In general, good poetry contains stark images and simple word use. It is written to be read aloud, rewards bibliophiles but does not punish neophytes. Poetry cannot be written by just anyone off the street. Further, not everything is poetry (I will further ponder and elaborate on this topic in later essays).
With these criteria in mind, Alms for Oblivion (Aark Arts 2003) by Bryce Milligan is good poetry. Milligan, a modern day Renaissance man, is an author, teacher, book designer, editor, anthologist, publisher and singer/songwriter. Besides Alms, his poetry includes: Daysleepers & Other Poems (1984), Litany Sung at Hell's Gate (1990), From Inside the Tree (1990) and Working the Stone (1993).
Alms, Milligan's fifth collection of poetry is really one epic poem in seven sections.
In section one, the reader is introduced to Milligan's narrator--a plural "I"--who perceives and muses upon the fabric of existence and perception which forms our collective memory. The catalyst is a photograph of the narrator's father who is described as "older than I am now, older than he ever was." This male image (which I pictured as a black and white photo) and the female "she" form a universal, yet ancient, struggle/dichotomy between logic and intuition; mathematics (observation) and nature (perception); faith and proof. This dichotomy forms the central thesis of Alms and is carried forth in subsequent sections wherein Milligan posits that reality is nothing more than what he describes as ". . . perception. Constructed illusion. Both. Neither."
In fact, an example of this constructed illusion is mathematics which Milligan describes as "objective truth." However, Milligan goes on to deconstruct this ultimate truth by equating it with human error based on his simple logic that mathematics ". . . relies upon observation which relies upon perception which is ultimately human, and to be human is to err." The syllogism is completed by the reader's natural conclusion that mathematics (the constant throughout the universe) is itself inherently fallible.
So what is real in Milligan's world? Real is the intersection between myth and history. In Milligan's landscape myth seems like nothing more than just forgotten ancient history codified into digestible tidbits. In this context, Milligan's references to Aztec, Akkadian, Sumerian, ancient Greek, and Celtic mythologies and figures is not just an attempt to show-off his wide breadth of knowledge. Rather like the old photograph, which is the lead-off image in Alms, these mythologies serve as a catalyst for the narrator's musings and perceptions.
Overall, Milligan's work is an example of modern poetry which uses ancient theme/myths. Alms showcases Milligan's craft and his mastery of language through the use of simple phrases and short lines to create and evoke very complex musings. Alms subtly reminds the reader to keep the senses open and the extra-senses even more open. I would recommend Alms to a reader who will read the poem more than once and aloud as this reader will be rewarded by the strength of Milligan's line and verse.
Causes Bryce Milligan Supports
Almost anything that is not Republican. I am a pacifist, vegetarian, Green and Left.