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Fishing For Truth 

Honeycutt's new poems deliver on the promise of earlier work

Poetry is alive and well in North Carolina. This is the third time in one year that I've been startled if not stunned by the exceptional work of NC writers. In early 2001, Ron Rash's Among the Believers caught my attention with its studied poetic line and deft regional narratives. Summer brought Shelby Stephenson's long poem, "Fiddledeedee," a powerful river of imagery driven by musical momentum. Now with the publication of Waiting For The Trout To Speak, Irene Blair Honeycutt has delivered on the promise of earlier work. In this volume, Honeycutt shows that it's possible to write carefully and still take risks. Divided into three subsections, the line and form of these poems vary tremendously. With other poets, the techniques employed here might seem gimmicky, but Honeycutt transforms a difficult task like the villanelle, "One Word" into an effortless work of lyrical beauty:

Our losses fall in love with one another.

Something lasts, will not be shorn by grief,

though we feel like a lamb from mother driven to the slaughter.

In "each pond. . .a prayer" the lines move out from the margin as if following the slope of the muddy bank:

And here I stand on the pier

close to the green swirl

where air bubbles speak

of life hidden there. . .

In "Early October," the last stanza is scattered about the bottom of the page like fallen leaves. "Meditation in January" contains lines that imitate the bare limbs of winter trees. But this book is far more than a practice in visual formatting.

In poem after poem, Honeycutt proves her ability to describe the natural world, stemming from an obviously acute ability to observe and to remember. In fact, though the key themes in this book are grief and loss, that of memory is nearly as important. The poet often relates childhood events from the past with more current ones as in "The Barber Shop," where she and her mother escort a younger brother to his first haircut. She contrasts his fretful attitude ­ "I watched you clench the armrests,/ your knuckles turning white as wishbones" ­ with the attitude he exhibits when she visits him at a hospital years later where he is receiving chemotherapy, losing his hair in tufts. "Dinner's on me!' you grin, /asking for an extra plate. . . I watch the drops of chemo crawl through the tube."

The importance of memory is never more apparent than in the title poem. "Waiting for the Trout to Speak," a delicately beautiful study of Honeycutt's quiet father, also contains the most intriguing metaphor in the volume. The poem begins with perhaps her most succinct visual impression: "A stone glints/ like a fisheye/ caught by the sun." A couple of stanzas later, the poet declares

It's

the forgotten memory

I keep fishing for,

one that swims so deep

I can never cast far enough,

even in dreams.

Later she describes her father's

shy attempts at words. . .

on the screened porch after supper,

the smoke from his Lucky Strike

trailing off into the smoldering dark.

Her most indelible memory of her father is in his fishing boat "shrouded in silence/ beside the lily pads." "Waiting for the Trout to Speak" is a splendid poem that serves as a spiritual center for the book. The poet revisits the trout stream of her own mind many times to remember and often to praise those whom she remembers.

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