Right from the beginning, I could glean that The Ditch Was Lit Like This by Sean Johnston is about those in-between times when we are focused on getting wherever it is we are going, and about what we leave behind, as well as what we lose altogether. The first poem ends with the apt question, “Are you ready?” Figuring that I was, I eagerly turned the page.
This poet associates night with travel; even when at home, stationary, the night is a journey. What I really like about this book is that there seem to be poems within poems. And what is refreshing is that Johnston addresses the problem of language. These pages are complex and beautiful, exploring binary concepts like joy/discomfort.
The strongest point of this body of poems is how Johnston includes the reader on the journey, exploring the more delicate and philosophical points of family, and romance:
“…the response is either love returned or love withheld—that is,
of course, if something has been risked, and the real invitation
is this: birth,
eyes that behold beauty,
hearts that move toward it.
The problem is that every gesture is an invitation—a smile
in a public place—say a garden, on a dull day—and next thing
you know you’re climbing her wall to sing.
And what for? To give her
Your own invitation, a tiny memory from your childhood,
to make her sad? Or show you have a heart? Who knows?
But you’re eager for another story—one that shows her also
The Ditch Was Lit Like This reveals a down to earth persona. Someone touched by similar conundrums as you and me, describing situations like the moment right before one falls in love, and the moment right after; being chased by bill collectors; striving, striving, striving, and being let down; of how the generations that come before us seem to be taken by death before we really get to know them; of being stuck with worn out clothes; of feeling short-changed by Hollywood, because real life isn’t perfect, planned, contrived, re-shot, and edited. This book tells me that life is going toward the future, from the past, and is about existing in the in-between. These poems shed light in shadowy places: those side-lines that we speed by or the artificial dip in the land, designed to catch water or hold whatever ends up getting pushed to the side. And just for the fun of it, Johnston uses rhymes, at times.
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