Tuesday, November 25, 1969
THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Tuesday, November 25, 1969 THE MICHIGAN DAILY Page Five
By RON BRASCH
Donald Hall, The Alligator Bride - Poems
New and Selected, Harper & Row, $4.95.
TFE ALLIGATOR BRIDE Poems New and
Selected by Donald Hall is a balloon ride
tripleheader. Henry Glickman said, "That
ain't all entirely easy." And, as usual, Henry
Bride is actually three distinct sections of
poetry spanning the author's literary ca-
reer. There are nearly fifty poems selected
from Exiles and Marriages (1955), The Dark
Houses (1958), and A Roof of Tiger Lilies
(1964) to complement t h e latest poems.
Happily the reader will find here the top
of the arc, balloon ride highs, but there are
also a few lows from individual poems, and
at least partially (for me) from the poet's
diffuse, basically unchanneled writing.
While Hall is at all times the very profes-
sional, intelligent poet, demonstrating a wide
range of style, subject matter, and tech-
nique, his work lacks a certain amount of
depth and direction. That is to say, some
poems have small or zero aspirations, and
Alligator Bride as a whole (or three parts)
lacks the poet's unified effort "to make
clear to himself, and thereby to others, the
temporal and eternal questions," which ac-
cording to Ibsen is the task of the poet.
This highly subjective criticism is, how-
ever, offset by the existence of an amazing
amount of excellent poetry, and by the in-
escapable fact that Donald Hall, weaving
a wealth of images and motifs, is a capable
poet from several different perspectives.
In a book spanning a poet's life work, the
question - of development cannot help but
arise. From the technical point of view, Hall
has always been a master craftsman. He has
more than once said that technical profi-
ciency can be learned, though. And as such,
Hall has traded this guiding light for a les§
structured, restricted one. Accompanying
this traditional abandonment is a shifted
emphasis to abstraction and surrealism.
Throughout, Hall has continued the finely
worded realism that bears none of the ex-
cesses of the Ginsberg mob:
At night on the bare boards.
of the kitchen
we stood while the old man
in his nightshirt gummed
the stale crusts
of his bread and milk.
By the side of the lake
my dead uncle's rowboat rots
in heavy bushes.
Many of the selected poems have been
abbreviated or revised. To the author's cred-
it, he appreciates that poetry is a continual-
ly evolving process and specific poems are,
at best, only temporarily completed. What a
pity this feeling is not more widespread.
QUITE REPRESENTATIVE of where Hall
is presently at is the prize-winning "Exile,"
title poem from Hall's first book. Fifteen
years ago it was rather lengthy. This year
it emerges from Elba a tight six lines. And
that, Martha, is some kind of exile.
A boy who played and talked and read
Fell from a maple tree.
I loved her but I told her I did not,
And wept, and then forgot.
I walked the streets where I was born
And all the streets were new.
From a personal point of view, I cannot
say that I completely like the new Hall bet-
ter. By being so short and sensitive (as here)
he leaves much unsaid. As contrasted, the
old "Exile" (with its imperfections) was a
full-length narrative. Quoting one passage:
Exiled by years, by death the present
By words that must remain unvisited,
And by the wounds that growing does
We are as solitary as the dead.
Being into different things, the new Hall
is good, but I'm not fully convinced the old
had to go so far away.
In the "Vatic Voice: Waiting and Listen-
ing" a recent essay concerned with the cre-
ativity process, Hall writes, "We must find
ways to let this v o i c e [of spontaneity]
speak . . . We want to do this not only to
make poems . . . but because it helps us to
understand ourselves and to be able to love
other people." In its finest and broadest
sense, I believe this is what poetry itself
should strive for. There is little need for
academics or toy makers wrapped up in try-
ing to lay on us a new way of arranging
words on the printed page or the letters
within a word. Talk instead about the dead,
and the living, and those in between. Write
about the private joys and sufferings of the
unwashed, little minor gods who just try to
make it; capture the human element. Do
this, and maybe when we're both done we'll
all get it together just a little bit better.
Henry didn't live long after he said "That's
what it's all about." But his poems did.
One of The Alligator Bride's great strengths
is that this need for a new humanism is
frequently answered. Fortunately or unfor-
tunately, though, Hall does not make it a
crusade, as the excellent Philip Levine does.
Refraining from sounding like a small ta-
ble of contents, I'll mention only a f e w
poems masterful in dealing with the petty
drama of human existence that is so much
more than petty; "Jack and the O t h e r
Jack," "Wedding Party," "The Jealous Lov-
ers," and "The Bays."
Although several of the poems are un-
mistakingly personal (including "My Son,
My Executioner" and "Pictures of Philip-
pa"), I never really feel excluded. Perhaps
this is partially because I have heard Prof.
Hall read and the good vibes the man puts
out remain in his work even afterward. Re-
gardless, from early to contemporary, Bride
demonstrates more than a brief concern for
the other world existing externally to the
introspective poet. The world of people that
should always be foremost in literature.
SINCE HALL HAS SPENT a considerable
amount of time in England and New Eng-
land, it is not unusual to find they have a
continual influence on setting and subject
matter. There is also a childhood nostalgia
that pervades among others, "The Table,"
"Old Home Day," and "Exile." Hall has suc-
cessfully drawn upon his not inconsequen-
tial work on Henry Moore, crafting t w o
quality poems, "King and Queen" and "Re-
clining Figure" from Moore's sculpture.
At times Hall is able to combine terseness
with terrifying experience, as in "The Cor-
It does not know
its name. It sits
in a damp corner,
from its chin, odor of urine
Huge, hairless, grunting,.
it plays with itself,
sleeps, stares for hours,
to smash itself on the wall.
Limping, bloody, falling back
into the corner, it
will not die.
On the other extreme is Hall's humor.
amazing to say the least. "Crew-cuts" has
got to be a classic in outrageous stereotype.
I'll resist the urge to quote from it, since
to do justice the entire poem should appear.
Then there is "Woolworth's" and "No De-
posit No Return" which may also sit in the
front seat. For humor and social commen-
tary combined, it would be difficult to find
three this well-constructed in another book.
If you are the sort who likes the packaged
philosophy, then you've got a disappoint-
ment coming here. If Hall does not have
one to give at this stage of his life he is not
to be faulted - any more than a non-poet
could be. However, the really disappointing
aspects of this is that Hall does not seem to
be working toward a consistent, coherent
view of the world. While he does seek and
find individual Truths, no effort is made to
establish their part in the larger world. In
this respect the book lacks the depth that
some readers require, but many do not even
In this framework lies Hall's other signi-
ficant limitation. Some poems do not aspire
high enough and fail to become special or
distinct. "Light Passage," for example, starts
and ends strong enough, but it goes no-
where. This is all right to the extent that no
one is saying it has to. But I prefer poems
that venture a little farther into the cross-
walk. While Hall's power of observation is
exacting, too often his poems stand alone
as a kind of ordinary commentary devoid of
interpretation. "The Child" (a fine, precise
poem) poignantly captures the special free-
dom of a young boy - "Nobody owns him."
and "The hand of the wind touches him."
Unlike Joyce's story, "Araby," though, "The
Child" does not, except for the final line, go
beyond sharp awareness. This peculiar type
of criticism r e 1 a t e s to my conception of
poetry, and art in general.
ALSO EVIDENT, a residue from Hall's
first two books, is a sentimentality distaste-
ful to several poems. I refer specifically to
the ending of "The Wives," "The Grass" (a
simple poem concerned with life a f t e r
death), and "In the Kitchen of the Old
House." Mostly, though, Hall is to be com-
mended for purging the sentimentality from
the old and avoiding it in the new.
Throughout the book, there is an under-
lying air of masculinity. The airplane imag-
es and their related acceptance of violent
death are but one manifestation of this. So
many spilled planes line the t r e e s and
ground that Alligator Bride almost becomes
a hangar for dead Spitfires, 707's, Grum-
man Hellcats' and their broken, skeletal
navigators. From "Gold", the marvelous,
concluding love poem:
we lay on the huge bed, by hand
stroking the deep
gold of your thighs and your back.
In "The Blue Wing," a gentle - near ero-
tic - poem of death and rebirth, Hall op-
She was all around me
like a rainy day,
and though I walked bareheaded
I was not wet. I walked
on a bare path
singing light songs
The latest section consists-of wave upon
surrealistic w a v e. This is to be expected
considering its contemporary popularity. We
get the enchantingly weird in "Make up:"
The blue air
of the forest grows
stone, and the stone
The two freakiest p o e m s are "Happy
Times" and "The Alligator Bride." "Happy
Times" is actually a trip poem. And I don't
mean from town to t o w n. It combines a
number of disjointed lines and images writ-
ten at several different intervals. T h e y
were then arranged, rearranged, polished,
and - lastly - g i v e n a unifying title.
Though I seriously doubt if there is any-
thing more than face value going on or
coming off here, either way it is a good-
Unfortunately, "The Alligator Bride"
does not measure as well and winds up be-
ing one of the least communicative poems.
There will undoubtedly be people who se-
lect this as their favorite from the book, but
even after they tell why I probably will not
understand. It has a rationale that goes be-
yond its creator and anything he intended.
Perhaps this is what displeases me most.
When a poet loses or abandons control he
often reaps a combination of mild greatness
and great failure ("Howl" is an example of
this.) "The Alligator Bride" needs some-
thing inside of it to hang onto: at times it
is laughable, at times grotesque. And yes,
Martha, the images and lines are unques-
tionably fresh and exciting, but they lack
the tight strength that marks the book.
IT IS NOT DIFFICULT to say what
makes The Alligator Bride such a good vol-
ume of poetry. In one sentence: it contains
the latest and the best of fifteen years of
Donald Hall. Normally I prefer writing re-
views for bad books. They afford the oppor-
tunity for more creativity and imagination;
they give almost a cleansing feeling of pos-
itiveness. But, alas, with The Alligator Bride
Donald Hall has dealt me a less backhanded
enjoyment. After Henry's .second book of
poetry sold a million copies, his wife (Mar-
tha) said, "If you ain't doin' greatness, Hen-
ry, you're doin' his first cousin." Martha said
it almost as I would say it, with the reser-
vation that should Hall gain a greater
sense of direction he would be even better.
By JILL CRABTREE
The Detroit Riot of 1967, by Hubert G. Locke,
Wayne State University Press, $6.50.
THE DETROIT RIOT of 1967 is a book for
policemen. Also wives of policemen, friends
of policemen, and kids of policemen.
At its high point, it is even a book for people
seriously concerned with redefining the role of
police in urban America.
Unfortunately, this high point (singular) is
contained in the brief Epilogue to the book. You
could be excused for not reading the rest unless
you are one of the aforementioned wives, kids or
The book jacket tells us that Hubert Locke, the
author, is a research associate of the Center for
Urban Studies at Wayne State. He is black. In
this day, these are promising credentials.
But Mr. Locke is also a minister of the Church°
of Christ of Conant Gardens and, at the time
of the riots, was administrative assistant to De-
troit Police Commissioner Girardin.
These latter positions turn out to have far more
significance for this book. The Detroit Riot of
1967, in spite of its larger pretentions to pungent
social commentary, is primarily interested in
vindicating two groups who came under a bar-
rage of criticism immediately after the riot --- the
police and black clerical leadership.
THE BOOK BEGINS honestly enough, with a
simple chronology of the events of July 23-31,
1967. Locke's attempt to be meticulously objective
in this account is obvious. But a suggestion of his
unconscious bias is evident in the fact that he
chronicles the riot in a series of police reports.
Locke turns a chapter professing to compare the
'43 and '67 riots into an opportunity to extol the
virtues of Detroit's most recent police com-
missioners, George Edwards and his successor Ray
It becomes evident that Mr. Locke has some very
dull axes to grind. His vindication of the police
department is relativly water-tight. He points out
that the Detroit police department in '43 was
generally credited with being one of the most
bigoted in the North, while Girardin's depart-
ment had taken large steps to put black police
in black precincts, eliminate investigative ar-
rests and tip-over raids usually aimed at black
prostitutes and blind pigs, and revise the citizen's
He angrily charges the state and federal govern-
ment with using federal troops as the aces in a
political poker game with mass violence as the
These observations are hard to contest, but do
not fulfill the readers' expectation for sociology
which goes a little deeper than the Sunday slide
Perhaps if the book had been titled Law En-
forcement in the Black Community, or Why I
Hate the Free Press, it would not have been such
The defensive, personal nature of Locke's pui-
pose comes completely out of concealment in his
discussion of black leadership before and after
He says with some heat that the criterion on
which black leadership should be judged is not
whether their presence on the streets of Detroit
can stop a riot.
But in his minute detailing of the jockying for
power among black clergymen after the riot le
shows less what criterion leadership should be
judged on, than his own participation in the game.
It dawns on the reader that the book itself may
be part of his maneuvering.
ONE PART OF THE BOOK is salvageable, the
above mentioned Epilogue. In this he outlines a
plan for increasing police efficiency and improv-
ing black relations with the black community. He
includes putting things like prostitution control,
mediating family quarrels, recovering missing
mental patients, issuing traffic tickets and deliv-
ering babies in the hands of appropriate civilian
agencies, rather than saddling the hapless cop
with them all. This would leave the ,police free
to control crime (surprise !) and, in the case of
prostitution control, eliminate a festering wound
in community relations.
However the rest of the book has only one
value from a civilian standpoint. It reveals the
workings of the mind of Hubert Locke and people
like him, mostly black men now, white men in
other revolutions, who cannot break free of the
conflicting loyalties expected of them. These
men must attempt to sem to take a stand, while
maintaining the objectivity of the police blotter
- an objectivity which in the end is only illusory.
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Today's writers ...
RON BRASCH is the editor
of Generation, the University's
JILL CRABTREE was a re-
porter and assistant night
editor for The Daily during the
Detroit riot of 1967.
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