Hawaii Pacific Review: HPR 2012 Book Reviews

In The Night Speaking
By: Richard Spilman

Sacramento Poetry Center Press
ISBN: 978-0-9815968-1-5
Reviewed by Brandon Funai

 In The Night Speaking, a collection of poetry written by Richard Spilman, presents us with a plethora of unique stories on every page, each in different environments from all over world. Unlike other books and collections of prose and poetry, this book has no sections or linear timeline. This book does not contain so much a straight storyline, as a cohesive journey in which each poem describes a different experience, and each experience has a lesson to be learned or moral to be discovered.

Spilman's work evokes a variety of emotions, several of which are light and happy, while others are darker and grittier. These dark feelings go hand in hand with the major theme in this book, loss.  Loss is always associated with an unpleasant feeling; whether the person or thing you lose is precious to you, or the thing you want to lose causes you pain, you are left with either a burden or an empty hole in your arms and heart.

The loss of innocence is one such feeling we are met with early on in the collection. It is something every child must face in their life—be it either moral or sexual. In "Lobsters", we watch as you, a child, go from playful and hungry as you toyed with your new lobster:

                …Laughing as you lifted him high,

                 like a toy soldier meant

                to threaten your enemies (6)

 to guilty and fearful after you hear the shrill cry of a lobster being boiled alive for your dinner:

                […]But then from the pot

                tiny shrieks like the keen

                of women at wakes[…] (7)

There is nothing quite like the sheer jostling effect that one feels when he realizes that they have just killed another living being for the first time, and Spilman captures this well. Using 2nd-person perspective in this poem emphasizes this feeling, putting you right in the child's shoes.

Not all loss is gloom and despair, though. I must commend the tales told in Spilman's book— every poem spread a vivid picture; every word hit the right heartstring. In the poem "The Idea of Order on Stinson Beach", we watch a girl and her mother as they spend the day at the beach. The mother collected sunlight while her daughter collected trinkets she found:

                A brio of prances, hops, dizzying spins

                 here is pure abandon beyond even nature (50)

In the end, a battle is lost, as the daughter refuses to discard her treasures from the sea, and the mother relents, not wishing to upset her child. There is also a loss or order when the child 's haphazardly collected trinkets litter the shelf of her bedroom.

Upon reaching the collection's titular piece, "In the Night Speaking", we are shown two people who are together in a physical relationship, yet further apart than ever. Everything about the poem implies that something between them has been lost, from the disjointed form of the poem, to the choice of words.

                In the night speaking not

                                                                                to each other

                but to stars like words

                                                                                half-forgotten

                but bright in their distance,  (60)

Details are scarce, since each line is only a few words long at best. However, this helps us share the feeling of a couple who may have lost that spark they shared together long ago. And yet, even with their half-empty relationship, they accept it and continue to stay together. This lesson of acceptance is important to this book, as it is essentially the only way to truly deal with loss. 

                In the end, with the poem “Ice Storm,” Spilman reminds us of what always eventually comes after the acceptance: the need to continue forward as time moves on:

                ...the work of making do: take stock,

                cut your losses, repair the barn,

                cart off the dead, and in spring,

                with its green pretense all is well

                you will learn to live with less. (73)

After a heavy winter, Spilman shows us the importance of what must be done to get past loss. Throughout this book, after everything that has vanished, the loves that have left, the chances that have been missed, everything comes to that simple phrase: "you will learn to live with less"— which is really all anyone needs to hear to drive the message home.

Whether you are an avid poetry reader, or a casual reader just getting your feet wet, Richard Spilman's collection of poetry In The Night Speaking deserves a spot on any reader's library. Its ability to captivate readers with tales told through poetry has won this book both my recommendation and a place on my bookshelf.