Book Reviews

Lower Hanging Fruit: Poetic Casket of Lyrical Visions

Lower Hanging Fruit
Poets: D.Everett Newell & Dough Hodges
ISBN: 9789385945267
Publisher:, Allahabad
Pub. Date: 2016, Rs. 200(INR)

Lower Hanging Fruit by D Everett Newell and Doug Hodges is an outstanding collection of lyrical, penetrating, illuminating, sincere, thought-provoking, delicate and genuine poems. The most wonderful quality of the book is that it contains both formal poems and prose poems woven around ‘mundane things we may overlook as we lead everyday life’. The collaboration of the duo is quite admirable and appreciable as both the poets have tried their best to bring out the best for the sake of humanity, and for evolution of their sharpened sensibilities. True, the poems under the review are “revealing lyrical moments of perfect sweetness“. Nature and human nature both have been depicted with superb creative force of imagination through the deepest core of scintillating thoughts.

D Everett Newell, one of the greatest English poets of the modern world represents the first half of the book, with his best poems which are ‘impressive outpouring of spontaneous passion’; succinctly suffused with ‘eclectic spirit’ and ‘eclectic thoughts’, with depth of reflection on life and death, nature and the world. Thematically, his poems centre around certain circumferences of life and the milieu- nature and its beauty, and its role in the evolution of mankind, social, moral, family and ethical values, love and humanity, global harmony, hopes, dreams, and memories, depth of reflections and evolution of thoughts and philosophy and many more. His poetry is the outcome of his experiences. Social realism is an asset to his poetic writings. In the poem “Alone’, D Everett Newell categorically reveals-

We don't need people's empathy
Or their understanding
All of us are normal,
All are alike one another

However, he appeals to the people to maintain and sustain the beauty of nature around them. Nature is the most significant and oft recurrent theme in the poetry of D Everett Newell. His interest in and fascination with nature and its innate beauty and charm is quite remarkable in his poems. He underlines the protective and sustaining measure of nature in the poem "Wind"-

Mother Nature controls us all
Men and animal,
She wraps us up in a strong bosom
Embracing us with the wind

Like a true romantics, he eulogizes nature in more than a number of ways through symbolical uses of objects of nature such as river, mist flowers, mountains, and hills etc that evoke mixed feelings in readers. He is simultaneously aware of its healing power. That’s why he often takes resort to countryside landscape and natural surroundings of flora and fauna. His nature poems present a kaleidoscope of sight-

Green grass
Yellow flowers
A kaleidoscope of sight

Blue skies
White clouds
Mother nature, so right
I sleep a restful respite ( Kaleidoscope of Sight)

"Petal" is yet another beautiful poem of nature which captivates us with the intrinsic beauty. He personifies nature as a woman that enthrals all to see her-

Like the polished nails,
Of a woman's hands
A vision, one we behold
Fragile, demanding
Flowers move us,
By stopping us,
Petal by petal 

Besides, his ecological concern deserves our appreciation as the natural resources and its beauty are on the verge of depletion due to bludgeoning greed of the people running after materialistic pursuits . In "A Blade of Grass", he urges-

You also paint our world
Green with stability
A blade of grass,
Green, tall, dewy, moist
A blade of grass

Some of his poems are the ones well dedicated to the the innocent people, either injured or died or killed due to the misconstrued conception of the fanatics. 'Backpack Bomber" is one such poem of mourning, dedicated to Brussels , and their innocents. He bemoans with a tinge of pain sneering at the satanic highhandedness-

They died for what
A misguided interpretation
Of your ancient holy book
You say it’s for your religion
No known religion 

Satire is one of the biggest tools employed in his poetry for venting out the angst for cathartic effect of purgation. The world is tormented with recurring onslaughts in some way or the other. The media are playing a pivotal role in fomenting the situation. they are in the habit of falsifying the real news. This global scenario pains the poet who doesn't restrain himself from revealing and making a strong satire on journalistic attitude going from bad to worse in the poem "Bias"-

We are in danger of losing our way
Of losing our ability of forming freewill
All at the hands of these charlatans
That give us a constant feed of bias- Bias

The poet as a lover of nature is always fascinated by its opulence beauty and satisfying grandeur. He gives more priority to the natural landscape of a small town and the countryside. His "Carnival" is a fine poem with a casket of nostalgic pleasure dripping from the past. He rightly highlights timelessness of enjoyable beauty of the country-

I would love to go back in time
To enjoy once more
That week in my backyard
In my small town,
Once again,
To be totally entertained by
A travelling Carnival 

"Chocolate" is a very suggestive poem dedicated to the people with broken hearts. The poet sneers at the cold attitude of the lovers and beloveds who dump their love. With a personal voice echoing in the poem, the poet makes it out that we must fall in love with the right, loyal and sincere people and not be rejected, jilted, dumped at all. Let's see his stand on this-

You are very hot
I broke my heart’s tooth
On that last bite of love
why do I always pick
The wrong person to love? 

His perspective on significance of relationships or friendships in life is much more striking and appealing as it seems to have come up with wide range of experiences that he has had. He himself footnotes- " Among the joys of our life, somewhere there is a boneyard of old friendships or relationships that somehow, someway, died on the vine". In his beautiful symbolic poem "Closed Books" he further arrests our attention and serious consideration-

Relationships are like that
Steps of trial by error
To make it as a couple of friend
It is imperative to infuse new things
Grow together, not apart
Fight away the mundane
That which perpetuates staleness
The killer of all
Sometimes, as hard as we try
Couples die, friendship die
Much like, lying on a dusty shelf
Half read, never to be opened again
We find that in our life,
A series of attractions and love
Becoming so many,
Closed books.

As is apparent from the distinctive characteristics of his poetry Newell, the poet, is highly fascinated by the mystical aspect of nature. His poetic richness is all well carved on the larger canvass of the fantastic nature with its pied beauty. of all his nature poems, "Clouds" is one of the finest poems that symbolically and metaphorically depicts the vivid beauty of mysterious nature-

Pillow-like, massive
White, or shades of grey
Floating, wafting,
Across a bright blue sky
A harbinger of sorts
Of peace, or storm
So much a mystery

The same theme of beauty of nature is carried forward in his next poem "Colors That Pop" that highlights the beautiful aspect of nature with all the glitters and gleams that add variegated colors to our life-

To see in living color
Adds vibrancy to your life

Shades and hues
Golds on blues
Lights and bright
Pink on white
Sunlight, that mellows
Reds on yellows

So on and so forth we go
A kaleidoscope continuum 

D Everett Newell’s poetry is a rainbow of reflections on and about life and family, love, marriage and relationships. It is an extension of human experience. Most of the poems deal with his serious brooding over some familial aspects of life with formative influence on him. Like all humanitarians the poet has a great love for the animals and birds. His philotherianism is quite remarkable in some of his poems. Due to growing greed, animals and birds are subjected to severe cruelties resulting into the disturbances in the ecological cycle. He is totally against the killing of birds for fun or feasts. He doesn't approve this sort of attitude of the people. Hence , he makes a universal appeal to put an end to this evil practice in his poem "Cruelty"-

There are far too many times
Too many incidents
Of animal neglect, abuse,
I want to cry
I want to scream
I want to beat these people down
I want to understand, how
How could we
There is nothing that helps explain
These actions,
I besiege you, please stop this cruelty

His is poetry of tributes, homage and dedications. The poems as showcased in this collection are the poems of tributes and homage, dedicated to several family members and also to his near and dear ones, close to their family. His " Daddy's Little Girl" is one such a lovely poem dedicated to his daughter Bissa. He motivates and inspires her to go ahead in life for all the oddities. He wants to keep her abreast with lessons and teachings, and philosophy of life. He suggests-

My love and littlest angel
You are now a grown woman
like all of us
Life’s problems get magnified
Hugs, dried tears, and band aids
Sometimes will not work now
But know my love is forever
And always at your disposal

Another significant aspect of his poetry is that it advocates to stand for the weak and the suffering. He takes to task all the unlawful, evil practices and the people or the authorities indulged in. He is a great humanist to the core."False Confessions" is testimony to this trait of his poetic personality-

We need to protect the weak
The easily influenced
By protecting,
Their human rights
Rights afforded them
By our nation’s constitution
Please stop all practices
That produce, false confessions

Of all the poems, some poems are very subtle and insightful and thoughtfully provoking. With epigrammatic feature, they carry layers of meanings. The poet also probes into the psyche of the people and come up with realistic portrayal of some intense impulses working inside. "Fear" is one such psychological analysis of state of mind pushed aside due to onslaught of fear. He writes-

A product of knowledge
Or a total lack of knowledge
It is what we make of it
At times,
Despite our best efforts
It grabs at our inner self
Ratcheting Down,
Squeezing out our true self

He further gets into the skin and brings out the cerebral reality which can never be ruled out-

From the tiniest seed
Of despair, doubt,
Grows an oak, in our minds
We all fight the fight,
At least we try
A fight of worry and despair
But at times,
We all lose this battle

His thought and perspective on life is insightful. History of life keeps storing all the experiences of existential journey being undertaken in the temporal alley of the world. He records it in the poem "History"- 

We live history every day
As we move to tomorrow
It becoming, yesterday
Being important to note
It's a record of our being
It's our story

The titular poem "Lower hanging fruit" is one of the finest poems of the anthology. He calls all our actions, thoughts, visions, sights and sounds, all the 'microscopic events' of 'mundane of life' 'lower hanging fruit'. He is of the view that 

Our lives revolve around
Their cloaks of invisibility
Born of their repetitive nature
Sewn into daily traditions
Those of keeping on
Around in and out,
They become,
The very fibers of life

He sums up the essence of life in beautiful words-

Small pieces to the really big
Fragments that guide us through ages
In retrospect
They are useful spent energy
yet in memories, a blur
Without them,
It would be hard to exist
being integral,
To the essence of life
These lower hanging fruit

Another beautiful poem is Painting" that portrays life force and its dormant power to blithe a face, and its simplicity. It presents vivid imagery to echo the sense and sound of poetic vision of life. A Work of art, whether painting or a poem, is 'recreational tool' that provides a 'mental health' and broadens the horizon of our perspective. He writes-

A beautiful energy awakens
Arising from a sleeping cocoon
These repeated layers
Of bright colorful goodness
Pastels of every hue
Or may be,
Dark browns, earthen tones
bringing happiness to the mundane

Some poems are a compromise with the stern reality of life. Life is not a bed of roses. It is strewn with thorns also. Fortunes and misfortunes are inevitable. we have to come to terms with the problems of life so that we can move on living the best moments with a great ease. "Rainbows Thru Our Tears" is a poem of hope and despair. The poet makes us understand- 

Bad times hit us
At the most inopportune times
Unavoidable, it's part of life
A debt we all pay to exist
During those moments
Darkness confounds us
Smothering at times,
Multiplying anxieties,
That play in our heads

However, one must be optimistic and enthusiastic and should never let the despair overpower our heart and soul. We must strive to catch ' silver linings' in the darkness of life. he encourages –

Glimmers of light giving us hope
Renewal of energy to fight on
A light that comforts us
And in doing so
Shows us hope anew
There now in the darkness
Shining brightly the many rainbows,
We now see thru our tears

In view of the above, we must keep in mind what the poet has to say through his inspiring poem 'Sea To See"-

Live life to its fullest
No matter where you find it
Engulf yourself in it, live it, be it
Feeling, seeing it all

His poetry is a beautiful compendium of guidelines teaching us the art of life. 'Life is a series of bumps/ Highs and lows/ At times it is very hard/ But we must be emotionally tough'(Wide Eye Grin).....'competitions/ hardens our personal mettle'....'We need losses/ The lessons of life/Come varied, many hard/ Losing builds temperament/Experience enables,/Our abilities to learn' (Sometimes, We Lose). So through the poem "Wide Eye grin" the poets exhorts us –

Smile with your eyes
Flowing tears of joy
A wide eyed grin
Telling signs of happiness
An emotional life
Bringing a measure of euphoria
We all need it,
We all experience it .

The same spirit of encouragement and motivation is carried forward in the poem "Smile" also. Regarding smile as a very important tool of life to defeat foes of hard times, he avers that smile is –

A very useful tool
In the fight against our enemies
Hate, and depression
Smiles move the earth
With their positive spin
They fuel the inertia
Making the earth rotate
Powerful they are
Use them often
Do us all a favor
And as much as possible
lease smile!

Now let's analyse and evaluate the poetic beauty and worth of Doug Hodges, another great poet of nature. He tries his best to 'reveal the undiscovered beauty of in the objects of nature' thanks to his poetic imagination. His poems are illuminating and sincere. In some poems he is better and in some the best. Like Newell, Dough Hodges is also very much appreciative of beauty of nature. His heartfelt appreciations are well showcased in his poem "Appreciating". In the very beginning of the poem he is all praise for objects of nature which have appeasing appeal to our heart and mind-

appreciating the flowers
breathing with the breeze
the birds harmonize about me...
with every breath life is a picture
peace is actually lived
in all its color and sympathy

He also perceives mystical aspect of nature which keeps man alluring to demystify the undiscovered veil. He singles out each of the objects of nature such as river, wind, ocean, sea etc and unravels the mysteries of nature. In the poem " A Wind" he writes-

this is the wind of the sea
mysterious and ancient and far
beyond the ken of man

Another poem of demystification is "The Ocean" which contains 'another mystery from the/mother of mysteries'. in next poem " River" he compares objects of nature with God and his mysticism-

like God,
past, present, and future,
all at once.
the river is a being unto itself,
sharing what it will
yet, leaving up to me
what exactly I would take from it.

Man and nature have close affinity with each other. There lies an inherent element of upliftment of soul in the natural surroundings that soothe our sense. The melody of nature exerts profound impact on the overall well being of man. Realizing this ephemeral fact the poet explains it in his poem " In the background"- 

In the background
There is always the rhythm
A tintinnabulation beat
Repeating over and onward
The heartbeat of existence.
As quiet as the world may be
As hushed as we perceive our surroundings
In light and in dark
If we but stop and listen
Feel wit all our body and soul.

The poet is a man of values and ideals. His poetry is an ebullient expression of positive thoughts, good deeds and noble virtues of life. Staying firm and erect on the right path ultimately leads to the realm of peace and tranquillity which is the sole objective of all arts including poetry. Come what may , he doesn't let despair and troubles deter him from moving in the right direction. This brilliant theme runs through his nice poem "A wonderful present to myself". He boldly proclaims-

.......a wonderful present to myself would be
to stay focused on the good
the positive, the forward moving light
Drinking from the half-full cup,
Not allowing myself to stagger to the quiet pools
The unseen depths of loss and despair
Which lie ever tempting
in the shadows to the left and right.

For all the negative forces on the way, life is the name of moving on, with firm faith in oneself. True identity of man lies in his ability to rise up for the same of humanity, with all sympathy for the afflicted people. His "People" contains his ideal thought on the welfare of people and society. We, the sincere people, must be kind and helpful to the people around us, cheering them up to enjoy their life. He unlocks his heart to loft the disheartened-

Little realizing that beneath such facades,
like in the comic-books,
lies a true identity,
a heroine, a hero, of modest proportion,
yet who touches the world,
sending out ripples into the
sea of life, profoundly affecting
those around them.

Ours is a competitive world where all are out to outdo others to get ahead. Soaring greed of this materialistic life seems to have turned the people into some sort of machine. People are getting devoid of sensibility. All are for grinding their own axes. Nevertheless, the poet, a man of masses, wants to stand for those left behind. The poet's social consciousness is well reflected in his poem "People"

next time, when we step out into the
mad racing world
perhaps we might pause
to truly see the people
behind the masques
which we daily brush by.

His poetry is a ' timeless moment of our own,/transcending the earthy and mundane world.' His creativity is a purgatory process of sublimating human existence, while his writings flowing on the tides of time go a long way in doing so. His perspective on the importance of temporal aspect of life is sustained in his subtle poem “High and low". He writes-

What matters is that, for this small
portion of time, my lust to work beneath
tons of earth and rock, my desire to make a
living scratching and clawing in the very bowels
of the planet, was briefly replaced
by a lust of another sort.
a cleansing lust of touch and emotion,
of gentle beginning, creating a rhythm of two,
which crescendos into a moment of seer ecstasy.

Keeping in mind the temporal significance he articulates in the same poem-

as for me, I would cleanse my body in such a bath,
and keep my soul free and alive
for the green hills and the crystal cool air,
and attend the church of my God regularly.

Time is of paramount and symbolical significance in the poetry of Dough Hodges. Present, past and future, oft recurring in some of his poems, sharpens his penetrating vision and his capability to perceive. In “Ruminations”, he remarks-

The present can be rolled out upon the screen
And, still, I am amazed,
‘Am I really that old man?
Has so much really happened?
So much time gone…
Like the blink of an eye.
Yet, so much still to do;
Stories to be written,
Songs to be sung.

In the same poem we find that time sustains hopes and aspirations in life and enables him to have divine realisation-

Perhaps, there is a future.
I seem to remember one, once.
Though, truth be told,
I have always lived in and for the present.
Now, it seems unimportant;
Merely that all stay well and happy,
To face whatever, with confidence and surety,
‘God is in His heaven
All is right with the world.’

Time always tests our endurance and all the initiatives and endeavours to toil hard to give our best to the world. “The Times” reveals it all-

I gaze at the world about me
And realize this is what I am here for
A proving ground to test my meddle
To see if I can give as much
‘as I can take
To see if I am worthy
Of all the bounty I have received
To see if I can, indeed, move on
When the trumpet is sound.

They say time is a great leveller and healer. This realisation finds a permanent place in his philosophy of life. “Journey” is a symbolic poem that highlights the healing power of Time-

……….time heals all wounds,
But truly, only those wounds we let go of,
Those of which we cannot let go
Never heal and only become
Entrenched into our very psyche
So that our souls cry out in anguish
And we know not why.

He is a poet of Nature and staunch religiosity. His strong belief in God makes his poetry special. While appreciating the external aspects of nature, he weaves paean on God to make us inward. Love acts as a catalyst. Like Shelley he perceives invisible presence of Spirit in all objects of nature. His "Note on Cities" is a beautiful example of this attitude –

May the city of your love take care of you
as the mountains always took care of me.
There is spirit everywhere
and if we but have faith in God,
let go of our earthly selves
we will be taken care of.

In another poem “Awaiting Sunset" he writes-

The earth as a rhythm
and unbeknownst to man
he is a part of it.

As a matter of fact, people are the best creation of God but it is sad that they have forgotten their source. Further, he makes a true remark that today man is 

not realizing that
he is but a tool of God,
another cog,
in a physical and spiritual
machine far beyond
his comprehension.

Dissociated from the realm of nature and the grace of God, modern people have lost their existential significance. Wayward as they are, they have fallen victims to various neurosis. Stress and depression have taken a heavy toll on their overall being. Power of God and Nature alone can have ennobling, elevating and positive force to lead them to their right path, to the realm of happiness. That’s why the poet suggests and exhorts us in the poem "Depression"-

That is why we must always remember
That God is there
Within us and
Within His word
And within the world;
Loved ones are there
Children and animals surround us
Nature offers us its majesty and its calm
There is a reason for all this.
We have but to,
Even if just for one moment at a time,
Reach out the let peace
Carry us through.

The theme of religious fervor and belief is again carried forward in the poem "Decision" which reiterates the same appeal for ushering in peace of mind and immense joy-

If I fill my hand,
It is with the blessings,
I have been given
And it is to share and pass them on.
it is in my joy and thanks
That I move through this sphere,
it is this persona I would leave,
hopefully helping others
to their own state of peace.
a world of shared joy and peace
eliminates war and strife
it eases pain and hunger
helps to control disease,
for a world shared
is a world loved.
God has asked no more of us.

Music, musical instruments and sweet songs of heart and mind find a remarkable mention in some of his poems. They are resonant with enchanting notes and endearing melody of his thoughts. The poet very deliberately picks up the musical instruments of his choice such as 'guitar' and plays fantastic tunes to tune the mood of his readers to the outstanding lyrical excellence of his poetry. He opines that 'music is a link to immortality' and that ' songs and , themselves,/ weave their way throughout the tapestries of people's live.' (Music ). In his "Awaiting Sunset" he reveals-

all the denizens of this place
even man
flow across the land
like the South Texas breeze
each playing its part
each on its own path;
a place abounding with
the musical silence of life

His use of metaphor in the poem" Guitar" is outstanding. He writes-

My guitar is like a woman
soft, smooth,
cool to the touch
when she and I are on together
our music is the sweetest ecstasy
I caress her body and strings

Further, he persuades us to feel the sonorous music of his poetry. He echoes that music and melody are in fact

not for entertainment
rather an extension of myself
it is an arm, a voice
that only now am I realizing
can be a bridge in communication,
with others. (Guitar Once)

In "...Guitar again", he croons-

it can convey songs of my deepest love
the most poignant emotions of my life
it can relate to the love and lives of others, old and new
it can turn back the nostalgic clock
and rewrite old words with a new pen
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 
the guitar is the voice of my soul

His "The Music' declares-

The music continues
Meaning different things
At different times
To different people.

The poet has not kept complexities of life out of his poetry. It has found a very realistic portrayal in some of his poems. Understanding of life is all that matters to him. Side-effects of depressed life, futility of materialistic pursuits, disillusionment, and human predicament are also the issues raised in his poems.Nevertheless, the poet takes recourse to Nature to beat down odds of life. He makes personal statement in "To Go"-

Not really knowing where to go
I choose to go nowhere
I would, rather, let the wind
be my guide
the birds, my music
the earth, my path
I would as soon go higher
or thither or yon
it matters not
for I realize
in the greater scheme of things,
that I will wind up where I am meant to be.

The poet’s love for the nation and everything national also finds wonderful manifestation in some of his poems. “Flags” contains his deep love and respect for his country and people-

Proclaiming our love, our respect, our allegiance and fealty to our country
To acknowledge the present without the past
Is to delete all the blood, sweat and tears,
All the toil, dreams, violence and love
Our forefathers honoured us with.
To deny the past is to deny the future.

Besides, there is also a beautiful juxtaposition of innocence and experiences, childhood and adulthood. The influence of William Blake on his creativity and thought is apparent in his poem “Once”.

To sum up, Lower Hanging Fruit is a beautiful anthology of poems which touch upon innermost aspects of our life. The romantic imagination and wonderful thoughts are at their best, touching the soft chord of our heart, paving the way for us to get back to nature. Both the poets have harnessed all the resources of their fertile imagination to peep into the enormous riches of nature to bring out the best of lyrical moments through their poetry. Uses of similes and metaphors, images and symbols are all conveying as they have been well woven with all the precision and simplicity. The only thing that is not befitting is that unnecessary incorporation of prose pieces in the book of poems, though fantastic ones. They seem to be not that much appropriate in this particular book. Nevertheless, the present book highly deserves to be relished for the aesthetic, emotional and philosophical qualities of the poems outstandingly presented.


More by :  Bhaskaranand Jha Bhaskar

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