Grass that Leaves Greener: New Eschatons and Egresses
Shawn Callaway Hays has attempted something so ambitious, it is difficult to know how to talk about it. Grass that Leaves Greener: New Eschatons and Egresses is a collection of poems by Hays that culls from the poetic tradition of the past several centuries. From the King James Bible to Shakespeare to Gerard Manley Hopkins to Walt Whitman, and many other, Hays pulls inspiration, allusions, and epigraphs for his own poetic work.
The book itself is broken into three sections: Great Are the Myths, Song of Myself, and Song of the Answerer—all three titles taken from Walt Whitman poems. The sections are subtitled to suit Hays’s purpose: “doom: the full fey moon at midday,” “undone: immortal diamond me,” and “doom undone: in love with the love of wisdom that is love.” Relying so heavily on the works of other writers is a clever trick. Readers familiar with Whitman’s penchant for cataloging, in list-style, will see that echoed in Hays’s poems, as will those fans of Hopkins’s ruminations on God and faith, a subject that peppers these poems from start to finish. An early poem from section one, “requiem: the prince’s last night after it all happened vermillion,” will be a hit with Hamlet fans, particularly the line “Sweet plural Prince Hamlets us.” But a later poem in that same section, “her god of guilt spilled into the patriarchal streets,” is more resonant because it doesn’t mimic or respond to any source material, rather it is the poet’s own expression.
This plurality proves true throughout the book. The further you read, the more you want Hays to step away from the poetic tradition and trust his own voice. In Book Three, the poem “comeuppance at my well” features an epigraph from the Book of John, a simple, single line that informs the piece. It is that kind of smallness that you wish Hays had stayed, too, because it allows for a frame around the work without bogging the work down. That poem holds my favorite line in the collection, “we all want a drink of the water that we need.” Powerful in its ability to capture how we all feel, against the backdrop of the struggle for faith, it gets at the heart f what all good poetry should do, which is reveal us to ourselves.
For literature fans and teachers, like me, it is a bit fun to attempt to identify all the references, but it may be a bit too heady for those unfamiliar with the earlier material. If you are up for the challenge, though, Grass that Leaves Greener: New Eschatons and Egresses will give you much to think about.
Rilke Hopkins Press
Shawn Callaway Hays