Book Review

Red Boots by Michael Koehler, illustrated by Ralph Murre. Baileys Harbor, WI: Little Eagle Press, 2009. $12.00

Reviewed by Robert B. Moreland

Red Boots is a collection of free verse poems that had the distinction of winning the first R.M. Arvinson Manuscript of the Year Award in 2008 from Little Eagle Press. Within this collection, Michael Koehler explores life from his own experiences from the immortality of youth and love to the death of his father and the impact of this loss. Pervading all of his work is a tangible and intense imagery complimented by Ralph Murre’s pen and ink drawings.

This compilation of forty poems is divided into three sections.  The first section entitled "Red Boots" recounts life experiences of the author including the title poem.  It is in the observation of simple details that the poet goes on to extract deeper meaning. For example, in "The Girl At The Airport Windows" (14), we wait as he watches an enamored young woman waiting for her beau at an airport:

Just when I think this may be
another sad poem,
She throws her hands high
and runs into her future.

One is taken with the tenacity of youth and the sampling of the fruits of life, not pausing too long to belabor the consequences.  These poems are interspersed with the triumphs and tragedies of love and being loved.  In "The Lies We Love" (20), Koehler recounts a difficult goodbye, while in "Hail Storm" (26), an old lover’s return to town rekindles passionate memories of lovemaking during a storm. The title poem "Red Boots" (26) captures this seizing of the moments in youth in a memorable dance outside a Memphis roadhouse.  The descriptive language takes us there while the enjambment throughout enhances our read.  The poet gives us just enough and leaves us with a smile in the final two lines.

In the second section, "Intermezzo," Koehler offers three poems on the art of poetry.  For example, "Have You Seen The Young Poems Lately?" (42) addresses an age old quandary of what do we do with all the new work begging to be heard: 

So many of them.
Where do we start?
First, let us slow down and become apparent.
Give them some place to come to.
All they want is a home, our ear to settle in.

In the final section "The Face of My Father," Koehler pours out his soul as he writes about losing his father and trying to come to terms with the loss. Of the three sections, this was the most powerful in my reading: from a son's inevitable recognition of the father's mortality and the painful progression to "Last Meal" (52) and the transience of life.  It is in the last poem "Drinking With The Ghost Of My Father" (76) that we find some answers and peace. In answering his son’s question of how one deals with growing older, the father answers The harvest is only part of the journey.  In the final toast, he leaves us with the message:

“Everything between
the grape and the wine,
from the crush to this glass

happens as we will it.
Let this be our lives,” he said,
And he drank his wine.

Red Boots is a reflective read of Wisconsin poet Michael Koehler’s first longer book, whether with a glass of fine wine by the fire or a cup of hot tea on a cold winter night. 

Robert B. Moreland was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. He has published two books of poetry with
Karen M. Miner (Eternal not Immortal, 2005 and Postcards from Baghdad, 2008) and in the South Dakota Review and Towards the Light. He resides near Carol Beach on Lake Michigan and the Chiwaukee Prairie.