The poems in Jonesing For Byzantium are loosely combined into an ode to the Piedmont skree, both human and natural, that inhabits my countryside in Georgia (USA): the dark and the light; the reds and greens; the living and dead.
These pieces attempt to communicate how the remoteness of the rural American South ultimately relates to the outer and inner realms of the poet and reader alike.
Like the world, this poet’s home is in a state of constant change now, as the landscape is no longer isolated nor as simple as ‘agriculture’ and ‘shoulder-room.’
In “Asheville Morning Overlook,” Ward Abel says,
“But only here, wordless,/only here might translation/begin.”
L. Ward Abel is rarely wordless. He confronts the world head-on, with nerve, with clear-eyed wonder, and with the tools (language, soul) to translate it into benevolent recognition. The poet engages with the world; he does not balk, he does not look away.
Jonesing for Byzantium is an opera, a drama of voice and music and beautiful words. The natural world that Ward Abel inhabits, and gives us generously, is a place of rare beauty, teetering magisterially between the sacred and the mundane.
Taken separately, each poem here is lovely, self-contained, specific, as crisp as the sound of tires on a wet, rural road, and as rooted as his Georgia kudzu. They represent the place “where math meets jazz.” Taken all together, these poems are one long hymn to a universe both welcoming and befuddling. Abel’s is a voice that doesn’t just cry in the wilderness…it sings.
— Corey Mesler, author of We Are Billion-Year-Old Carbon
“Ward Abel’s latest book of poetry, Jonesing for Byzantium, is a very personal peek into the mind of a poet. It is not easy to categorize Abel’s work because it does not hold with the usual categories, nor is it ‘experimental’, in that connotation. Rather than being language for the sake of language, it appears to be language used for a specific purpose—to connect and explain in myriad ways the process by which the poet experiences his universe. The reader feels pulled into the thought patterns and subjects, in an accessible, non-academic journey, and yet it is still ephemeral in some muted, secret way, so that there’s shimmer, light and shadow where the obvious might have been thrust at us. One is reminded of music with the blending of notes, the subtleties of segues, and the dream-like quality of the poet’s stance. His language is his own and it’s no-nonsense without ever getting heavy handed.
There is a sadness and yearning in some of the work that seems to reveal itself in places and nature as if the earth itself is a metaphor for man’s own hard realities. In What Survives Out On Tar Road Corner, it is the kudzu (a viney weed) that survives—and one finds oneself considering the ‘weeds’ of one’s own world. Abel notices things. He observes women prisoners whose van has broken down on the highway. He takes note of Richard Nixon’s quirks, and Van Gogh’s untold travels. Like a jazz riff, he blows hot and cold ‘making sense of the senseless, this ‘soul’s housing,’ the final door.’
There are wonderful surprising images too, the unexpected that delights in poetry. In Now As Opposed to Then Able tells us: ‘But/I have perspective/knowing/what could come,/always in the/back corner/of a church/at the base of/my skull.’ And in Things Left Behind, ‘It reminds me of things left behind,/like songs and poems/when the hand/has become potting-soil.’
One of my favorite poems in this volume is Portent the Wing. I think it exemplifies what I am trying to describe in Abel’s work which is indescribable. And that’s what I love about this poet and his work:
Birds cross my path,
and the message
hinges on their slant of skim:
a glide towards and then passing behind
is not a welcomed one, as it signifies
paying twice for territory, or a failure—
this being the only dreaded traverse;
a pass from right to left is positive,
something propitious foretold;
left to right less so, though not a malevolent
but the bettermost way streams forward
with me in accompaniment
clearing the trail,
I in its wake,
my bones inflated,
L. Ward Abel is a witty man, and he drifts like Whitman beyond the particular, beyond clocks’ ticks and his forties, turning observation and impression into songs along life’s “river channel, approaching openness.” Perhaps it is “the intrigue of blank areas appearing on maps” that prompts Abel to consider himself “between, neither” – a thing like old, war-tugged Byzantium itself – and to act as lyrical medium between vision and sound, body and soil, regrettable little accomplishments and the precious small things. Abel doesn’t seem to seek nods and applause with his work. Rather he asks, “Please understand, or not.” — Dave Herrle, Author, Editor of SubtleTea (www.subtletea.com)
.JONESING FOR BYZANTIUM by L Ward Abel — “…a beautiful collection not only for its musicality, but also for the things its musicality illustrates. Not surprisingly, the things that make this collection a success are also the things that make any song a success: harmony, musical precision and a commitment to the wants and needs that make us human.” The Pedestal Magazine
Full review HERE
(Out of Print)