Review of Poems That Almost Got Away by Richard C. Richards

(Healing Time Books; ISBN: 978-1535300292)

by Peter Francev

Poems That Almost Got Away, by Richard C. Richards, is a thoughtful and moving collection of deeply personal poems. Dedicated to his wife and muse, Marty, Richards divides the compilation into two categories: “The Early Years” and “The Later Years”. By the author’s own admission, there is a humor in some of the poems where the reader may not be able to tell if the speaker is being humorous and, by the poet’s own disclosure he may not either. And, as a result, it is often difficult to distinguish between the humorous poetry and those laced with biting sarcasm. Nevertheless, this collection is a delight.

 “The Early Years”

With poems titled “Reflections on Death I”, “Reflections on Death II”, “Reflections on Death III”, “Go Softly” and “Die Today”, to name a few, the idea of death seems to preoccupy the speakers. Yet, for all of pondering and expressions of death, what the reader finds so refreshing is the confessional aspect of the poetry that is reminiscent of Richards’ forerunners like H.D., Marianne Moore and the incomparable Sylvia Plath. However, instead of the jaded-ness and anger that permeates in the poetry of poetic precursors, readers will find a gentler, softer tone that is, in its own way, comforting.

Continuing with the celebration of poems, two of my favorites, in this first section, have to be “In A Little While” and “Noname”. In the former, readers (especially those who remember their childhood or are parents, or even grandparents, themselves) will notice the ever-present inquisitiveness of a small child and his incessant inquiring. On the other hand, “Noname” reminds readers of the poetry of environmental activist and Beat poet Gary Snyder, especially when one discovers the interplay between the natural world and the speaker.

“The Later Years”

Collectively, in these poems, there is the tone of wisdom that comes with age and experience. Like a fine wine, Richards’ speaker is mellow, cool and comfortable with that which he poeticizes. The reflective quality of the later works denotes an acceptance at the journey of the speaker’s life. One perceptive poem that exhibits this quality is “For Albert Camus”. Anyone familiar with the Nobel laureate’s death will know of the absurdity with which he met his demise.[i] In the poem, the speaker questions the lucidity of death and how it is truly inescapable.

“Victoria” is an elegant poem that beautifully displays the intersection of humanity and the natural world, much like, I suppose, Victoria, British Columbia. This poem of six lines and a mere 24 words typifies, in its simplicity, that “Existence is so concrete, abstract, / Fading”.

Arguably, the strongest poem in the collection is one that does not seem to focus on death, nor does the appearance of a dry humor make itself known, but it is the simplicity of “Solitude”. For hundreds of years, countless poets have tried to exercise their poetic creativity and philosophize about solitude. Most, if not the vast majority, have been muddled in their explications; however, Richards’ version is anything but confounded. The gentle simplicity with which solitude is described conjures the image of the crispness of an Ansel Adams photograph. There is an exactness that enables the reader to imagine, with the sharpest clarity, the “big skies” of Montana.

Poems That Almost Got Away is a fine collection of verse by a thoughtful and introspective poet. It is an absolute joy to read and contemplate; and its poems reward those who are willing to engage them in a playful tug between the serious and the humorous. Clearly Richards has spent a considerable amount of time creating these gems. At the very least, we owe it to him, his muse and his speaker to participate in the understanding of artistic expression.

[i] Camus was killed outside of the French village of Villeblevin on January 4, 1960. He was a passenger in his publisher Michel Gallimard’s Facel Vega. When Gallimard lost control of the Vega, it slammed into a tree along the side of the road. It was reported by first-responders that the look of horror was still on Camus’ face.

Peter Francev, author of Albert Camus’s The Stranger: Critical Essays, is a Lecturer in Philosophy and English in Southern California. Currently, he is President of the Albert Camus Society US and editor of the Journal of Camus Studies. When he is not writing on Camus, he can be found researching his PhD thesis on Lord Byron or loving the company of his family.

Review of Poems That Almost Got Away by Richard C. Richards

by Ann Vitale

The poems in this collection, Poems That Almost Got Away, cover a period of more than 40 years and are divided into ‘The Early Years’ and ‘The Later Years’. As the poet says in his foreword, “Many of the poems deal with death” and indeed they do – and not necessarily in a morbid or despairing manner.

“Ah, Sweet Death”‘ for example, echoes Shakespeare’s idea that ‘All the world’s a stage’ in which we are merely playing our parts till we die. Richards takes this idea further and asks the question: ‘What is the use of a scene/For which there can be no encore?’ Excellent observation!

“Go Softly” is almost a counter to Dylan Thomas’s Do not go gentle into that good night. Thomas urges us to ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light’ whereas Richards advocates a more accepting and measured attitude to death: ‘Go softly, go gently’. Even the poems “Reflections on Death I”, “~II”, and “~III” never get to the point of railing against the inevitability and angst of death; rather, there’s acceptance and gratitude for what life can offer while it lasts.

Also in ‘The Early Years’ Richards makes observations about the lives of other creatures as in “The Acorn” and “The Snail” where he ponders the meaning of life for these two creatures. These poems demonstrate Richards’ keen observation and philosophical thoughts on ‘what makes things tick’. In “The Temporal Blues” the poet returns to contemplating the human condition and how best to use the ‘time’ that is allocated to us.

There is no real let up of the death theme in ‘The Later Years’. Poems such as “Clothe Death in Green”, “Let Me Die in Silence”, “Mr. Death (A Spiritual)”, “Dead Images” and “Graveyard in Harpster, Idaho” conjure even more images of death, dying and the end of life. One could begin to feel rather depressed just from the titles of the poems, but luckily, in most cases, Richards is able to maintain some objectivity and steers clear of becoming maudlin.

But there are stings in some unexpected places. The very short, innocuously titled “Breakfast” has the participants at breakfast all uncomfortably contemplating the fact that they are made of meat and therefore constitute ‘breakfast of fly maggots’! “A Stone Falls” unsentimentally compares the sinking of a stone in a pool of water (‘It’s just a stone, for heaven’s sake’) with the death of a man: ‘Why gather to cheer or mourn the man?’ … ‘He’s just a man, for heaven’s sake’… ‘He is gone. We are here’. Definitely no sentimentality there!

For a change of pace in this second group of poems, we find “After the Rain” in which the poet, with a beautifully deft selection of words, describes ‘two molluscs gently intertwined’. Again we see Richards’ acute powers of observation to the fore and the visual imagery makes the scene come alive.

“Ramblin’ Man” uses the vernacular to present a jivy and upbeat look at life as the subject rambles to Costco, the cleaners, the grocery store, around the garden, etc: ‘I ramble to where I want to be’. I would like to think that this is a self-description of the poet!

Don’t try to read all the poems at once. To get the best out of Poems That Almost Got Away, dip into them, savour each one, and return to the volume often – you will be glad that you did.

Ann Vitale is a former high school teacher and international education adviser. Her passions are education and words. She has led and managed developments in Kosovo, Iraq and Tajikistan.  In her professional life Ann has been a contributor at both operational and strategic levels to education in her home Australian State of Queensland.

Review of Poems That Almost Got Away by Richard C. Richards

by Dr. Reenah McGill

Richard C. Richards’ book of poetry, Poems That Almost Got Away, is a wonderful excursion behind the scenes which reveals over time how Richards transitions from a naive idealist to an almost curmudgeon.

Throughout it all, he still manages to retain his ideal of seeing the good and accepting the not so great, while hoping for the grand actions we are all capable of.

Dr. Reenah McGill is a licensed Acupuncturist and Doctor of Oriental Medicine. She is nationally certified as a National Diplomate in Acupuncture and Herbololgy and Oriental Medicine and has more then twenty years experience as a clinical nutritionist. She specializes in pain control, weight loss and acupuncture for health and well being, and co-authored Eat Right Lose Weight: Eat Right Lose Weight: Introducing the 5 Element Nutrition & Hypnosis System.