The HyperTexts

Memoirs of a Witness Tree
by Randal A. Burd, Jr.

a book review by Michael R. Burch, editor of The HyperTexts

Memoirs of a Witness Tree is a poetry collection by Randal A. Burd, published by Kelsay Books.

In his opening poem, “Humblest Apologies,” the poet asks us to “reassess conventionality.”

Many of the poems seem rather conventional in form and fall into the broad and sometimes-disparaged category of traditional or formal poetry: sonnets and such. Meter and rhyme in the twenty-first century? What, then, are we to reassess? Perhaps not the forms but their content: the poet revealing himself, and ourselves, through his art.

One of my favorite poems in this collection is “Overthrown” because it makes me think of my own childhood and playing Robin Hood without a care in the world. Thus it strikes close to home when Burd concludes with the ominous lines:

Adventures don’t occur here anymore—
Our sacred places have been overthrown.

“On Better Days” induces similar nostalgia.

Another poem I especially like is “Humilitas,” which I gather from the footnotes to be a more humble take on, or perhaps a response to, William Ernest Henley’s famous poem “Invictus.”

I also especially like the humor of “Lost,” the music and imagery of “Blue Spacious Skies,” the dark premonitions of “Forgotten” and “Out of Mind,” and the simple wisdom of “Ignorance in Love,” “Depression’s Lies” and “Grief.” As the wisest of men once pointed out, there is nothing new under the sun, and yet a good poet can help us see the never-changing with fresh eyes and renewed appreciation. “The Captain to His Mate” is a well-written extended metaphor about marriage as a partnership, something we don’t see all that often in modern poetry. Burd has impressive range as a poet.

Burd isn’t perfect, but then who is? At times the meter seems a bit stiff to me. For instance, in “Reflections” I have to read “Oc-ca-sion-al-ly pausing to reflect” in a sort of staccato to maintain the meter, when I want to read it “O-kay-shun-ly.” On rare occasions there are inversions, the bane of contemporary formalism. But what comes through consistently is Burd’s honesty and humaneness. He strikes us as someone we’d like to know, and someone we can know, through his poems. And there we discover more of ourselves.

The HyperTexts