Oyster Boy Review 12  
  January 2000
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Al Miginnes's Taking Up Our Daily Tools

Robert West

Al Maginnes's first full-length book of poetry frequently addresses the violent, the pitiful, and the sordid. There are poems about pop star Dion's heroin addiction, the hanging of a circus elephant in Tennessee, a woman's face smashed in an auto accident, a former schoolmate caught burning his wife's and neighbor's bodies . . . These are subjects many would consider unpromising, even inappropriate, for poetry. No Wordsworthian daffodils here.

Yet Maginnes isn't out to shock. His poems take the repellent as their starting point and work to come to terms with it. Sometimes they find hope of redemption or other solace: the book's opening poem, "Wanderers," ends with a now drug-free Dion singing again, and his middle-aged fans "Shaking back the forward surge of years." Sometimes, as in "Seasonal," the poems settle into resignation: "I don't know how we become the people we are." Almost all of them are meditative in structure, snaking along associatively until arriving at final notes that, however different, always ring true.

The notion of a Fall looms large in this collection, in at least two variations. One, Platonist, locates perfection only in the imagination, so that everything we actually undertake looks like failure. Or, as Maginnes eloquently says in the opening lines of "The Angels of Our Daily Bread":

Beside the imperfect cobble
of each task our tarnished
and clumsy hands turn to
rises the ghost of our conception,
built in imagination's pure moment
by the angels of our daily bread.

The second variation is the idea, familiar in Southern literature (Maginnes has lived much of his life in the Southeast), of the young generation failing to measure up to the old. In "Jobs" and "The History of Plumbing," for instance, the poet feels his inability to be the handyman his father was.

This is a remarkable first book, with plenty of wisdom and fine writing. And the poet's voice is admirably consistent—already trustworthy enough to be followed over and over into the dark.