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Gideon Halpin
Flowers That Die
In this collection of poems, Sad Boy is both protagonist and narrator, enchanted by beauty while seeking eternity. He crosses rainbows and falls from the clouds of love, the sting a reminder that it’s all for real. Caught between prayers and punches, Sad Boy searches for satisfaction in a world where everything fades. In the end, he is neither sad nor a boy. All that remains is a covenant to dance in the sun until his face resembles a crumpled napkin.
The intimate, precisely rendered poetry of Halpin’s debut centers on the perspective of “sad boy,” introduced in the collection’s first lines saying “fly me away” to the butterflies that “alight on [his] soft brown curls.” That introductory poem, “Mid-daydream,” soon reveals what’s weighing the sad boy down: “a girl / who / like the rainbow is gone.” The striking selections that follow often find this melancholy protagonist seeking refuge in nature (“the garden as a story /embellishes itself” during a rainstorm”), dreaming of warm domesticity (“yet home of the heart / is the heart of my woman /and in my hearth she lights a fire”), and offering memorable declarations in language and imagery that’s invitingly earthbound: “I’ll keep you close as a worn $20 / snuggled in jean pocket lint,” writes in “Exhale of a Flame.”

That longing pervades Flowers That Die, as the poet surveys the splendor of California, the majesty and loneliness of the heavens (“if I were the moon / how beautiful my solitude would be and my scars, a revered imagination”), and the quietude and isolation of a city during a storm. “Storm”’s evocative lines “unflinching, the pigeons / tuck their heads to their chests” stirs reminders of the heron in Elizabeth Bishop’s “Little Exercise,” another poem that finds tremendous feeling in the natural world without giving in to the pathetic fallacy.

While this collection of spare free verse feels bound together in theme, form, and tenor, sometimes to the point of repetition, Halpin touches on a range of other topics as well. Especially powerful is the fruitfully elusive “Soul Drumming,” which against a “bloodred sacred sunset” links music, heartbeats, bird song, environmental devastation, and more into a searching, searing whole. The “sad boy” persona might strike some readers, at times, as a playful mask, but it does not diminish the real pain and beauty that pulses throughout this engaging, accessible collection.

Takeaway: An inviting collection of sharply etched verse that finds a “sad boy” facing the world.

Great for fans of: Elizabeth Bishop, Mary Oliver.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B+