Saturday, August 23, 2014

"Birds Only Sing To Those Who Listen" by John David Autin - A Lovely Distillation and A Hymn To Life

Those who regularly read my reviews are aware that I rarely review books of poetry.  I am so glad that I made an exception in this case.  In this gold nugget of a volume, John David Autin has distilled 50 years of writing poetry into the nectar that fills 91 golden pages.

In the Preface to this volume, Mr. Autin talks of his struggle with Parkinson's Disease, and the fact that only one poem in this book deals explicitly with that aspect of his journey.  Yet as I read each poem, it was clear to me that the author's awareness of his own physical fragility has given him an enhanced awareness of the fragility of all of life, and it allows his language to shine brightly and to penetrate deeply.

The styles of his selected poems are quite diverse.  Many are familiar iambic tetrameter:

"Oh, do not think that I am dead,
For children owe no debt to death,
But say my swelling life instead
Outgrew the turbulence of breath"

(from "Hide-and-Seek")

Other poems reminded me of the free-flowing and breezy style of Dr. Seuss.  On the other end of the scale, there as poems that are like David's Psalms of Lament, particularly the deeply moving and impassioned "Psalm to the Ancient of Days."  It is clear that this poet draws from a deep well of Biblical knowledge and from his familiarity with Stygian mythology.  There are many allusions to sin and strife, to crossing the river, and grappling with "things that go bump in the night"!  In many ways, taken as a whole, this collection of poems is a Hymn to Life.

Let me share the lovely poem that lends its name to the book:

Birds Only Sing

"Birds only sing to those who listen,
Stars only shine for those who look.
For people who approach it with the proper disposition,
Life is not a problem, but an open book.

Attitude is everything.  Do yourself a favor:
Be enthusiastic in everything you do.
The secret of the most delicious dishes is the savor
That you bring to them, not what they bring to you.

Our sins against ourselves are mainly sins of omission,
The chances that we missed rather than the risks we took.
For birds only sing to those who listen,
And stars only shine for those who look."
(Page 11)

This book is a family project, for the lovely cover design is by the author's son, Michael.  This is a book that will be enjoyed by those who know and love poetry, but also by those who may be dipping their literary toes in that water for the first time.  I can say with conviction: "Come on in; the water's fine!"  Mr. Autin speaks effectively and poetically to both audiences.




Don Autin said...

I certainly have no qualifications to comment on the literary worthiness of David's writing. As did the reviewer, I too saw much more in the column that related to the inevitable impact a disease like Parkinson's has on your psychic. Much of the references to life and the onrush of life's end are beautifully captured. My favorite is "Psalm to the ancient of Days."

I have personally seen David and Katie deal with and live with what Our Lord has given them. You see, I am David's older brother and besides sharing a vibrant and life loving Cajun culture and heritage - we also share in being diagnosed with Parkinson's and the time to reflect as my brother David has so skillfully done. Oh, to have such talent. But then - he comes from good stock!

Lpve you brother,


Anonymous said...


Sybil A. Talbot said...

These poems are meant to be read by anyone who wants to enjoy poetry, they tug at the heartstrings and most can identify with so many of them. My very favorite is "You", which every mother should read, so beautiful a letter to the poet's mother. I read it often. Every poem in this book makes one stop and reflect, he says things we wish we could have. Beautiful.
Sybil Talbot