Babylon in a Jar: New Poems by Andrew Hudgins

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I mentioned at the beginning of the month that I first “got” poetry when I heard a presentation by the poet Andrew Hudgins, so I thought I’d take National Poetry Month to revisit some of his poetry.

Now, I’m a beginner at poetry. I don’t know how to write about it clearly and I don’t know how to interpret it “properly.” What I like about the poems in Babylon in a Jar, is that many of them don’t seem to need “interpreting.” Hudgins writes frankly and many of the poems are approachable simply as they are. Others have a bit of depth that I enjoy but that I’d rather not try to detail for you – simply because I’m probably “wrong” and don’t want to embarrass myself!

One common theme in Hudgins’ poetry is the ordinariness of life, along with the things that bring life out-of-the-ordinary. For example, in “Keys”, the narrator throws his keys in the air one pleasant afternoon, only to see them get stuck high above his reach. “In the Red Seats” tells of a drunk being a little too thankful at a baseball game. In two different poems called “Ashes”, two different characters at two different memorial services reflect on the cans of human ashes. The poems are humorous and yet painful as we recognize our own short sojourn on earth and how simple things can make us feel uncomfortable when we realize that.

Other poems have deeper meanings as Hudgins reflects on how the present time echoes the past civilizations that were once great (such as Babylon). Hudgins also has a deep distaste for organized religion that he expertly explored in such poems as “Stump” (a poem that I enjoy very much; the fact that I enjoy it strikes me as rather odd because [1] I consider myself religious and [2] the poem is about a chicken getting its head cut off). These “deeper” poems were also great, although I admit I don’t fully understand them.

The poem that stood out to me most upon this read of Babylon in a Jar was “We Were Simply Talking.” In this poem, a couple nearly crashes their car and the narrator realizes all that he loves and how much he does not want to die. This poem really stood out to me at this point in my life because I had an experience a few years ago when I realized I was going to die. (Moral: If you are going to swallow meat without chewing it, make sure an ER doctor is sitting behind you.)

Here’s how “We Were Simply Talking” ends:

Suddenly the radio roared, and by the car
a dog barked wildly and, yes, we were fine.
Fine. We were fine. But what was “fine,” I wondered,
and why do we always, always have to speak?

Note: I’d love to quote “We Were Simply Talking” in full, but due to copyright, I’m unable to do so. Please find a copy of it: it is incredibly powerful.

I loved revisiting Andrew Hudgins’ poetry in Babylon in a Jar. Visit Andrew Hudgins at Other books he has published are these:

  • Ecstatic in the Poison (poetry; 2003)
  • Babylon in a Jar (poetry; 1998)
  • The Glass Anvil (essays, 1997).
  • The Glass Hammer: A Southern Childhood (poetry, 1994)
  • The Never-Ending: New Poems (poetry, 1991),a finalist for the National Book Awards
  • After the Lost War: A Narrative (poetry, 1988), received the Poetry Prize
  • Saints and Strangers (poetry, 1985), a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize

Have you read any of Andrew Hudgins’ poetry?

Other Review:

  • Pif Magazine

If you have reviewed Babylon in a Jar on your site, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.

Reviewed on April 13, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • No, I haven’t read Andrew Hudgins but he seems worth checking out! As a poetry beginner myself, I think the modern poets appeal to me because I can relate to their subject matter more. The ancient and older poems in general are a little too difficult for me (although there are a few that are more timeless)… at least for now.

  • Valerie, I completely agree about the modern poets. To think I’ve only been reading the old stuff, and now I’ve started some of the newer poets and it’s so much easier to get through!

  • […] Comment upon Babylon in the Jar: New Poems by Andrew Hudgins by John […]

  • I am 13 and i began to write when i was only 6, i have great passion for poetry like Andrew Hudgins did, his poetry is great and i dream of one day becoming as good as him. =]

  • Marinela, thanks for visiting! I’m so happy to hear that you’ve been writing for so long, and I find it really impressive. I’m sure all the great practice you’re doing will help you improve.

    All the best, and again thanks for the visit.

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