A REVIEW OF PATERNITY
By Ann Chandonnet
Reading Scott Owens’ 2009 chapbook, Book of Days, one is struck by the attention to detail. Owens, a Hickory resident and college instructor, has the same devotion to the things and creatures of the world as Galway Kinnell. He lists plants like loosestrife, spiderwort and bleeding heart to draw the reader’s attention to things he might overlook in the busyness of modern life. He watches cloud formations and sniffs in appreciation “the air alive with spring’s ammonia.”
In Book of Days (Dead Mule School of Southern Literature), one finds some of the loveliest lines I have seen in years.
This contrasts with Owens’ previous book, The Fractured World (2008), a cautionary tale of dysfunctional family. It’s the kind of book one keeps slamming shut-- in an effort to close out the horrors that private life may shelter.
In his latest book, Paternity, Owens takes another artistic step forward, combining the devotion to observation with his desire to be a good parent. This is hardly an original focus, but Owens makes it his own by observing his third child, his daughter Sawyer, lovingly. In “Promises at 2 A.M.,” for example, he pledges his devotion:
After four months of holding you,
my body sways constantly,
rocks a little when I walk.
My left arm keeps the shape
of a cradle, My mouth hums
lullabies night and day.
Little Sawyer, still more hope
than substance, I will be everything
a father ought to be. I will teach you
all that I know, all I can learn.
…I will flame at the stake for you.
bare my neck beneath the blade,
suck the strongest poisons straight
from your body’s wounds….
In “Memorial,” the speaker carries his vulnerable child through Darlington’s Williams Park introducing her to “the fetid smell, /dark humidity, whistled sounds of swamp… [ to] cypress knees, fern/ and creeper, wisteria and bay….” Objects like torn bridges and trunkless legs might be scary, but the watchful parent is holding his child—only 833 days old—close, reassuring her.
In “How to Make Okra,” the speaker cooks while watching his baby and singing to her. The act of frying melds with the act of resisting past examples of parenthood: “Roll in egg,/ cornmeal, salt and pepper./ Drop in hot oil until golden./Control impatience, anger,/ childhood memories, all the while/ singing I-N-G-O, I-N-G-O….”
Paternity is true—both joyful and concerned. It contains that most wonderful phenomenon: ordinary human feelings in carefully crafted lines. It records the joy in observing “more stars” with a two-year-old who has mastered the concepts of both “stars” and “more.” It is a book for every expectant parent, for everyone involved in the challenges of parenting, and for every parent who has graduated to an empty nest.
Paternity by Scott Owens. With a “Poetic Postscript” by Anthony Abbott. $14. Main Street Rag Publishing Company, Charlotte. editor@MainStreetRag.com or 704 573-2516. Web site: www.MainStreetRag.com. ISBN: 978-1-59948-222-4.
Poet and historian Ann Chandonnet, a resident of Vale, is the author of seven collections of poetry, including Canoeing in the Rain (Mr. Cogito Press, Oregon).
Causes Scott Owens Supports
Poetry Hickory Hickory Soup Kitchen Temple Beth Shalom Hickory Women's Resources Center