Wheelbarrow Books (2021)
Reviewed by Amy Lignor for Reader Views (09/2021)
This read was a personal one for me; a book that brought up an interesting memory that made me want to read it. You see, I will always remember what my mother said about llamas. This highly educated librarian had a fear of them, and she consistently told me and my sister to never go near them because they would do nothing but spit at us. As any child does, that piece of parental advice was absorbed and it became a “must do” for me. I made it a goal to at least once in my life walk up to a llama and attempt to make friends with it.
Now, at the age of fifty, I am granted this autobiographical collection by a poet who grew up on a farm where llamas happened to live and… I loved it. I really did. It was not only the ease of reading and the pleasantry of the flow and the rhythm of the poems, but it was also written so well that it reignited the hope that one day I will make friends with a llama because this author has been kind enough to give me the ultimate how-to guide.
The basic plot of the book focuses on a young man living on this farm surrounded by some of Mother’s Nature’s most lovely greenery, as well as some of her coolest animals. Using the poems in ways that show the disintegration of his parents’ marriage that ultimately ends in divorce, the reader experiences a myriad of emotions. After the divorce is finalized, the boy is forced to leave the beloved farm behind which creates, for lack of a better term, a hole in the boy’s heart. Those childhood memories, from the chickens sung to sleep by lullaby to the captive wolves next door to the herd of llamas learning to survive despite coyotes and a frenzied family – all of those reminiscences help keep the boy from the country alive in the land of the city.
From poem to poem, the collection touches upon the subjects of home, and how deeply important the meaning of that word and that place actually is. It offers snippets of the spiritual when it comes to needing support as the world changes all around us while we grow into adulthood. It explores aspects of health when it comes to both the body and Man’s ill treatment of the earth itself. And last, but not least, it gives those like me a new view of creatures who hold their own thoughts and feelings that are mostly ignored because they stand on four paws and not two legs.
As a prime example, from a poem that I will never forget, Daniel Lassell wrote “How to Pet a Llama.” Within the wondrous words and rhythm he presents is my very own how-to guide. “Llamas carry conversations as if seated in a rowboat before fog has lifted, as if pausing to hear the long echo after a good shout.” I released a long breath after those particular words because I saw in my mind those large llama eyes that seem to hold a wealth of knowledge behind them. I saw the raised chin, held in that position because of the respect they silently demand and deserve. It doesn’t bother me now if my llama spits when I meet him, because I don’t think it will. I will simply follow Mr. Lassell’s instructions to the letter and I will praise that author as my llama and I… “Stand, just the two of you. Let your breath mingle as in cold, the air on tiptoe.”
5 Stars! It is no surprise this man is the winner of the Wheelbarrow Books Emerging Poetry Prize and a 2021 finalist for the International Book Awards. He has far more on his horizon, and I am a new fan who will watch eagerly for the next treasure he releases.