Another Beautiful Night by James Babbs, Lulu, 2010. $10.50
Reviewed by Ramona Davis
Another Beautiful Night and “Poems about women and drinking” seem at once to be a contradiction by the author between title and contents but once you read the words within, you actually do see a kind of beautiful darkness.
The book starts off with a poem entitled "My Girlfriend Gave Me This Shirt." This piece reminded me of the many things that girlfriends speak of having been given by their exes, but that have gone by the wayside when the relationship has ended. It also spoke to me of the vast difference between how men and women view relationships.
As women, we tend to place feelings on the mementos that we are given in relationships. When those relationships end, whether badly or not, to move past the relationship and prepare us for better days, we burn, trash, and give away those things that once meant the world to us. As men, though, the thinking seems to be that “I'm reminded of her whether I'm wearing the shirt or not...it doesn't really change anything and...what the hell difference does it make.” This was a great choice for a first poem as it creates a curiosity in the reader to see what else will unfold.
In "Twelve Beers" I am transported back to a time when my father's favorite pastime was drinking beers on the front steps of our apartment building. I can remember him following the author's stages where “the first beer doesn't say much...” but “...the fifth beer speaks in a loud voice...” and “the tenth beer slurs his words...” until finally “the twelfth beer sings [him] a lullaby...” that makes him “...fall asleep with a smile on [his] face."
This book is not just about the darkness in life though: there is beauty between the pages of Another Beautiful Night. I found compassion for a friend in need in "I Started Pouring." When the author hears a heartrending story of why his female friend stopped drinking, as soon as he “...saw the tears in her eyes...” he “pulled her close and gave her a hug...” This is just one aspect of beauty this book holds, however. I also saw empathy in "Girl With Guitar," where the lines say:
but it's not just her face
or that voice she must have
stolen from the angels
but the way her body leans
reaching out toward the microphone
singing with her eyes closed
fingers plucking every string and
she gives it all away
leaving nothing for herself
pulling something from me in return
until I feel the same way she does
wanting to rush the stage
trying to touch her
just wanting to hold her and
wishing I could
get to know her better and
maybe for a little while
make both of us feel okay
And isn't that the way a good poem should make you feel? That you share some of the pain of the poet? Or even their happiness? This was one of my favorite poems because as a poet myself, I gauge my success on someone feeling my words, and this poem, and the author's way of expressing his sharing of the girl's pain and wanting to take it away, does just that.
In "Gone Now," the beauty behind the darkness is sadness over lost love where the author wonders:
how many times this week
did I think about calling you
because I missed you and
wanted to hear
the sound of your voice and
when something funny happened to me
I wanted to tell you about it
but every time I started
reaching for the phone
the voice in my head screamed
He goes on 'speak' to his lost love when he says:
remember how we used to talk
almost every night about
the things that happened to us
during the day and
how I tried to make you laugh
whenever you told me
you were feeling down
that's all gone now and
the plans we kept making
when our bodies were touching
in the soft light of the living room
sitting on your couch and
what about the way I held you
in the middle of the night
when you said you were cold
reaching for me across the bed
because you were trying to get warm
And we have all felt this way at one time or another. How many times have we lost someone only to wish we could call them and say something, anything, even if it's just to make sense of our feelings?
You really do see a beautiful darkness in the words written by James Babbs. His collection expresses the dark shadows that linger behind us when all of the beautiful things are just a tad out of our reach and does so without leaving you cold.
Overall, I enjoyed the work of this author and really felt something for the goings on in his life; however, while the poems were thought provoking, the structure of them could be fine tuned a little. In a couple of the poems there were conversation tags in almost every other line that distracted me from the poem itself. In other poems, the stream-of-conscious style of writing made it hard to decipher how the poem should be read and was another distraction. More streamlining would make this collection an even more valued addition to any one's poetry library.
Ramona Davis owns and operates Altered Words, offering freelance editing, proofreading, and typing services. In addition to her business ventures, Ramona has facilitated poetry writing workshops through the DC Public Library for youth in underprivileged communities, holds a Certificate in Advancing Youth Development, and owned an after school program to benefit youth in at risk areas of Baltimore, MD. She has also done volunteer editing for a variety of authors and owns an organization (Chained With Love) that donates handmade, crocheted scarves to homeless women and their families in the Dane County area of Wisconsin.