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
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.