Why Billy Baldwin the bard is good company
Much Needed Poems from Creekly Speaking, The Rest Within, An Echaw Reverence and Considering
By William Baldwin
Softbound pp. 130
(Evening Post Books, Charleston, 2022)
By Charles W. Waring III
Billy Baldwin has not lost his touch with words from the days when we were contributing to a literary anthology for the erstwhile Lowcountry Heritage Society better than 25 years ago. He has spent a lifetime exploring swamps, surf and pine hills and witnessing how God and humans have interacted within these spaces in our beloved Lowcountry. During the pandemic, he posted poetry and photos on Facebook from many trips and these profound observations make up most of this book.
Billy’s poems come from four different books noted in the title; his poems cover a wide range of human emotions and perspectives, and his various poetic styles likely reflect something about how he thinks he should present the topic. Note the word “likely,” because one is never sure with the intentions of a poet; we can make all intelligent comments we wish but we recognize that much is left to our imaginations. At the very least, we can enjoy poems as songs of the soul that seek to convey something subtle. One could speculate forever about meanings in some of this verse; other poems are more accessible to the person who is not deeply into the world of poetry but can recognize when the muse is remaining steady with the familiar.
The opening stanza of “Day Clean,” the Gullah expression for daybreak, is a solid example of Billy’s more transparent verse: “Salt waves swing,/fold up and flee./Seems ebbing’s/got the best of me.” Now, you are set up for the lasso of the second stanza that cement’s the poem’s strength: “Porpoise sighs,/porpoise rolls/first gull glides/and first gull scolds.”
He tips the hat to Ogden Nash when he attempts and accomplishes clever wordplay in his “Creekly Speaking,” where he writes: “It may sometimes/suit our porpoises/to see ’em as frisky/sea-going horses.” Elsewhere, Billy offers some extraordinarily profound verse wrapped up in a title called “On Surprise.” If you have ever been on the beach and watched pelicans diving and flying for hours at a time, he provides the complex nuances about these magnificent birds. If the latter does not blow you away, wait for “Pitch Landing Stork,” describing when he pulled up to a wood stork in a cypress swamp and how his arrival in his truck flushed the very odd-looking beast “with its long dour face.”
In his “Coffey Swamp,” Billy takes on the many ways in which man is meshed with nature. This is another outstanding piece that is a must-read poem for anyone who knows what “progress” does to woodlands. Other nature poems are completely reverential, such as “At Santee With Old John,” where he offers the cathedral of nature where the spire is a tall pine and the one ringing the bells is the red-cockaded woodpecker; it would not be hyperbole to describe this particular verse as breathtaking.
Near the end, we see “Exactly Like This,” which is a metaphor regarding being lost in the woods as akin to a spiritual journey. He closes the poem with: “Yet at last, Oh, God/descends in wayward chance:/the path.” Other poems are equally outstanding, such as “Thoughts Oon Cremation,” “Prothonotory: Love Poem” and “Coffee Song.”
Readers should go into reading this volume with patience and focus; there is much here to miss and the iceberg poems — of which there are many — will have you scratching your head. Ride up to McClellanville and visit with Bard Baldwin and let him tell you more. The only possible weakness is that the book does not have much in the way of images, but this may be a way to tempt the readers to focus more on his literary efforts; his previous literary-photographic efforts with Bud Hill were always well received. Nonetheless, his more transparent verse will launch you on an expedition for a deeper dive into the fertile fields of words that my friend has planted for all to harvest. Be sure this book is in your library and do slip it in your still-hunting bag or boating or fishing bag; reading this verse in the cathedral of nature is akin to taking your Bible to church.