Steve Huff’s new book of poems, More Daring Escapes, is a window which looks into American life: the unsung, unglamorous American life that we rarely hear about but that so many are living. It is a familiar jacket, comfortable with its worn elbows and dirty patches. But Steve makes us take a look in the mirror and notice, even examine, that familiar jacket with new curiosity, with new eyes. Certainly, each poem can stand alone, but as a group they hang tightly together, painting a vivid picture.
These are not necessarily happy poems, but I would not call them dark or heavy, either. There is light in the honesty of the work. Themes range from growing older to depression, family and work, to loneliness. The poems are rooted with a deep sense of place, primarily western New York’s farm country, small towns and little cities, but there is also a strong movement in the book, a great sense of travel: poems on buses and in cars, on lonely roads, poems on mountains, poems in the middle of the desert and poems which bring us back home from the airport, “relighting my rooms/red-eyed sorting of mail./The furnace labors in vox ursa/to reheat the house./Cats venture growling/from behind the couch.”
Throughout the book, many characters surface whom we’ve all met in one form or another from the self-assured bartender who urges the customer to make a phone call to Caroline Kennedy to the brothers crammed in the pick-up truck, in “The First Time I Heard Elvis.” A father figure appears several times in the book, perhaps most beautifully in “Small Gestures” which is a tender ode to the father who “taught me small gestures/like pointing my thumb over/my shoulder./Do you think that’s insignificant?/Just cut off/your thumbs and try telling us where/you’ve been,/or warning us not to go there.” Indeed much of the book is like this: celebrating, by the mere fact of mentioning, the small and vital details of human life. Take the poem, “When I Have Money”: “I’m going to take a handful to town/and stock up/on razorblades, mouthwash, toilet/paper, wine and oatmeal.”
The language in the book is comfortable, accessible, but also highly intelligent and rife with metaphor. The language of someone who has lived this life he writes about but can also gaze in through the window long enough to record it openly, earnestly. It is very difficult for the reader to stand on the outside of these poems, these characters, these circumstances, to observe them critically. The craft is so deft we simply enter each poem upon reading.
The book ends with the poem “Bless” which honors those who played accomplice in many daring escapes, unheroically, perhaps, such as “the gang kid who let me escape, told me to run down/an alley, Get lost, get lost and probably had to invent a story when/the bigger bully wanted to know where their/prisoner went”. Indeed, the whole book reads like a blessing for being alive, paying homage to the daily experiences which make us who we are.