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Review of Doug Holder’s Wrestling with My Father by Charles Ries

Not surprisingly, a seasoned poet’s words are a mirror of his or her nature. The structure of lines, choice and placement of words, use of or lack of punctuation, application of metaphor, simile and alliteration, and of course the themes of their writing, are all deliberate choices. These choices are intended to lead the reader not only to a particular experience of the poem, but of the writer as well. In this sense, a book of poetry is a doorway to a writer’s soul.

In Wrestling With My Father, Doug Holder allows each of us to not only meet his late father, Lawrence J. Holder (to whom the book is dedicated), but also to meet him. In the poem, “A Thought On Father’s Day,” for example, we are told that: “Like him / I am drawn to the sea / to the sound of breaking waves / on the shore. / To the eternal ebb and flow / to the primal smell / of death and life. / To the gulls / mounted on the weathered rocks / to the purple death of the sun / each evening, / its bright rebirth / from the portals of the sea’s horizon. / Who is this man I see / it is my father / and it is me.”

Holder’s poems are straight-forward. “I am not about adornment,” he told me. “I believe in an economy of words. Too many adjectives, flowery and arcane words take away from a poem’s potency. I like to tell it straight, with no chaser.” Indeed, this collection, with its lean verse, has the immediacy I find in many A. D. Winans and Don Winter poems. The poems had an organic feel to them, but I wondered if Holder had done extensive rewriting. “For the most part no,” Holder said. “Most of the poems have been revised to some extent, but not extensively.”

Even Holder’s replies to my questions were to the point and without baggage. Here is another example of his ability to just say it:

“To Make Time Stand Still”

Such a desperate fetishism—
The racks that hold
a beaten band of Fedoras.
The wing-tipped shoes
weighted, in their dark,
appointed corner—
A dust-ridden chorus line
tapping into a parade
that has long passed.
And what light dares to intrude
meanders to a predestined
dead end.

And we rush out
to be under the sun,
and clearly see the
leather of our skin,
we breathe
deeply and begin.

I asked Holder over what period of time he had written this collection. He told me that “this collection was brought together after my dad died two years ago. The poems were written over twenty years, and for the most part when he was alive. I had the idea for the collection after his death.”

Holder has published four other chapbooks of poetry. He is widely published in the small presses and his work has appeared in several anthologies. In the immediate future his work will be included in a major anthology of avant-garde poets, Inside the Outside (Presa Press) 2006. He is also the co-founder of Ibbetson Street Press. I asked him about his press and about what sort of writers appeal to him. “I founded it with Dianne Robitallle (my wife) and Richard Wilhelm in 1998,” he said. “I like writers like A.D. Winans, Hugh Fox, Donald Hall. Basically my approach to poets and poetry is that if I read it, and as Auden said, it makes me cut myself while I am shaving, then I am sold.”

I have had the privilege of interviewing and reviewing many excellent small press poets. I find that reviewing a book like Wrestling With My Father with personal access to the writer gives me a three dimensional sense of the person and his work. I smiled when I got such economic replies to my questions, and I smiled again when I asked Holder what sort of poet he thought he was. His reply was true to form: “a good one I hope.”

In Wrestling With My Father, Holder brings his readers face to face with a theme that is ancient, glorious, and troubled. We experience the emotional roller coaster of familial love with words that hide nothing. His book is an excellent demonstration of how beautifully form and function can blend when perfectly matched.

Wrestling With My Father
Doug Holder
25 Poems / 42 Pages / $6
Yellow Pepper Press
P.O. Box 27010
Pittsburg, PA 15235
ISBN: 0-9762450-1-9

View bio for Charles Ries Published in Spring 2006

About HDM

Half Drunk Muse was one of the first poetry ezines. It was founded in 1999 and ceased publication in 2006.

Questions/comments? Email samiller@halfdrunkmuse.com.