Whether Mr. Roth’s Poems from the Heart are read over the course of a week or a day, you will feel each time that you’ve just had a heartfelt talk with a friend: a friend with a way with words in all the particulars that touch you to the core. You’ll come away as if you’d been on a companionable walk, finding more in common than not with the poet, and knowing that it was time well-spent for the sentiments shared.
So it’s altogether fitting that the first poem is “Famous Only Among Friends”; after all only such fame is real and meaningful, with time spent and hearts open. And Roth invites us into his thoughts with his signature openheartedness, a style that is thankfully short on obscurities and long on frank and unabashed clarity so that its poetic beauty penetrates the heart.
Throughout this collection of poems, you will be charmed as I was with the poet’s unerring descriptions, the imagery of the woods (“To Be a Leaf”) and hearth-side (“Blackberry Pie”) mingling effortlessly with the deeper truths of life and spirituality.
In “Good Times at Nag’s Head,” Roth describes his sons “Riding the swells on a bubble of air/Feeling the ocean breathing beneath” in “God’s ocean playground.” In “Splitting the Heart,” it’s memories that are the theme, buried or resurfacing: “Beauty lies not in the rugged bark/Nor in the gnarled limbs/But in the split layers of the heart.”
Such memories tell of Roth’s deep connection to his Pennsylvania roots and his abiding love for his home in the Carolinas. There are personal poems of grief over a friend’s death (“Now That You’re Gone”), life with a beloved pet of sixteen years (“Tiger Cat”), and of growing old gracefully (“Uniqueness is Perfection”) when he writes:
Botox and silicone can stretch us tight
Filling up wrinkles and sags
But the best we ever can look in our life
Is that face in the mirror hugging your wife.
Roth’s humor comes through in the “The Thrill of the Needle and Drill” on a visit to the dentist, and “The ‘Just Fine’ Mask” where he satirizes inauthentic social exchanges and our unwillingness to listen:
“How are you?” “I am really struggling!”
“I am so sorry, tell me more.”
“What can I do to help?”
“I’ll call you soon!” “Then we’ll talk.”
There is such richness of language and emotion in these poems that run the gamut from lighthouses (“Night Light”) to time’s passage, from lovers (“Under the Ziegler Oak”) to the larger world (“Power,” “The Atrocities of Being Right,” “Chasing Truth”), from morning light (“Morning Bursts Forth”) to sawgrass and sandflies (“Surf and Sun”) to enjoyment of art in books and on canvas (“Call Me Superficial”).
Roth’s love of nature shines in such poetic gems as “The Woodland Symphony,” “The Flight of the Fireflies,” “Fall in the Woods of Masontown,” and “The Frogs of Spring.” In “The Woodland Symphony” Roth writes:
Music pours out from shadow and tree
Calling us all to enjoy a reprieve
A melodious symphony straight from the heart
Each tiny instrument playing its part
Miniature voices in perfect pitch
Unwritten scores of notes that are rich
Filled with a beauty beyond man or pen
A symphony of music that will never end
Mocking birds solo sopranos and basses
Finding their notes in so many spaces
Piccolo warblers and wren solos start
Antiphonal melodies straight from the heart . . . .
In “The Flight of the Fireflies,” his analogy is nonpareil:
In the dusky twilight
The B-52’s take flight
As the sun sets behind the trees
Lightning flashes across the sky
Roth’s engaging wisdom punctuates his reflections on life in “The Curtain Rises,” unsurprising in one who has tried to live it to its fullest. The collection ends with “My Life Goes On,” a look backward and forward on the journey as an image-bearer of God.
By the end of your walk through this collection of poetry, I believe you’ll feel as I did that you’ve shared in the “antiphonal melodies straight from the heart” of a friend.
Dwight Roth blogs at Roth Poetry.