All The Horses Of Heaven
By James Tipton
Reviewed by Bill Frayer
In his introduction to James Tipton’s volume of poetry, All the Horses of Heaven, Michael McClintock observes that Jim appears to be “the horniest and healthiest man over sixty in the Western world.” Perhaps. For Mexican sensuality and erotic images suffuse Jim’s poetry in this volume. Anyone who has heard Jim read his poetry at the Ajijic Writers’ Group or at Open Circle is familiar with Jim’s penchant for beautiful breasts, sensuous brown legs, and his thorough enjoyment of encounters with gorgeous Latina women: At the market she holds her pendulum above a can of peas. Later holding it over me she invites me in.
The poems in this volume are all short poems of about five lines. Jim has been working on these short “haiku” and “tanka” poems for many years. I recently received a copy of William Higginson and Penny Harter’s 1989 Haiku Handbook. Several of Jim’s early haiku poems are featured in the volume. Although he does not always stick to any strict formula for these short poems, he has developed a wonderful ability to capture a powerful emotional moment in just a few lines of verse.
The poems in this volume are really about living a full, loving experience in Mexico, experiencing its beautiful women and its romance, and the perpetual search for ideal love. Some of the poems are about sexual fantasy and lust, while others capture bittersweet romantic moments: “This late spring all day long I wanted to change into a lilac blossom… one thing she loves.” Although these verses reflect the sexuality and sweet irony of love, they are often very funny, reminding us not to take our passions too seriously. I sometimes get the feeling, reading Jim’s work that his lust is really for the sweet, lusty moments of life, to be savored and enjoyed. Love’s yearnings and love’s losses always have comic potential in Jim’s eyes: “The Indian girl beside her baskets lifts out a full brown breast to feed both her baby and the tourists.”
Of course, good poetry is ultimately about images. A good poem creates an image and expects the reader to conceptualize the meaning using his or her own experience and sensibility. To me, the best poetry makes us think and feel, and helps us touch our own vulnerable selves with poignancy and beauty: “What invisible garden has decided to share its delicate orchids with our more visible ones this wet summer evening?” An interesting feature of Jim’s recent volumes of short poetry is that they are bilingual. Each poem appears in English and in Spanish. Translating poetry into another language is not easy, and Jim had a number of collaborators, although the primary translator is his wife Martha Alcántar. The translations give the readers the additional benefit of being able to practice their Spanish! This is Jim’s third volume of short haiku or tanka poetry in the last year. Proposing to the Woman in the Rear View Mirror and Washing Dishes in the Ancient Village are available in local bookstores and from the author (firstname.lastname@example.org).
All the Horses of Heaven is available from the author and also from the publisher at www.themetpress.com. All three books are available in Ajijic at Diane Pearl’s Colecciones at the corner of Colón and Constitución.