Book Review: Hugging this Rock
Poems of Earth & Sky, Love & War by Eric Chandler
Published by Middle West Press
Ladies and Gentlemen, ensure your tray tables are in their full upright position and your seat belt is correctly fastened. Hugging this Rock by Eric Chandler will zing you across the sky, through the woods, into love and out of war, in this collection of prize-winning poetry.
Chandler’s previous publications include Down in It, a turbulent war fiction novella, and Outside Duluth, (an essay collection that you’ll swear autoplays Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life in the background).
Hugging this Rock is masterfully formatted into four parts of the extremes: Earth, Sky, Love and War. As a military pilot, Chandler’s war is in the sky and far away, in Afghanistan and Iraq. As a father and husband, his love is on earth with his family, in and around Duluth, Mn.
Chandler exposes the gut-wrenching intensity of the mundane in several poems as in Sawhorse, about an elderly neighbor and Walking from Korea, about a local vet who wanders around and picks up trash.
We’re provided a snapshot of Chandler’s fighter pilot experience in View-Master, as we see the contradictory beauty of what he saw, through the allusion of a childhood toy.
As a parent, I felt sucker punched reading I Can Already Hear It. We can imagine the silence after all the laughing, crying, yelling, arguing, and practicing is done- the kids grow up and move out. Chandler then ruthlessly drives home the point as he follows up with the poem, It Happened Anyway.
In Looking Up, we’re reminded that rescue dogs tend to pick their owners. Chandler’s rescue dog Leo always looks up when a plane goes by, just like his human.
And oh, the graffiti in the port-a-potties while deployed overseas is real. Chandler recalls his favorite, “Toodles, Afghanistan”, in his poem, Air Born. (As a vet, my favorite was in Kuwait that read “Saddam sucks”.)
The most intense poem for me was The Old Man of the Mountain. New Hampshire’s legendary and beloved ‘Old Man of the Mountain’ mountain face crumbled and fell (in 2003), not unlike many men who endured too much. In the poem, Chandler falls in the middle of the night, in the bathroom, after a long day of grieving and harder night drinking. His father checks on him, picks him up and gets him safely to bed. The son becomes the old man of the mountain, and his ‘old man’ is the one that picks him up, probably like he always did, since he first fell off a bike.
But that’s the nature of this collection. Huge emotions are concealed in what at first seem to be simple poems. It’s stealth poetry at it’s finest.