Songs for Solo Voice

Poetry - General
68 Pages
Reviewed on 06/07/2021
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Author Biography

James R. Whitley's SONGS FOR SOLO VOICE, winner of the Red Mountain Poetry Prize, navigates through themes of love, loss, and resilience. His poetry has been widely published in literary journals and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Whitley's first book, IMMERSION, won the 2001 Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award. His second, THIS IS THE RED DOOR, won both the Ironweed Poetry Prize and a Massachusetts Book Award. His third, THE GODDESS OF GOODBYE, written in homage to his mother, was published in 2010. He is also the author of two poetry chapbooks, PIETA and THE GOLDEN WEB. Currently, Whitley lives in Connecticut.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite

Poetry is music. From the Psalms of Solomon and before up to the present day, words have expressed a rhythmic quality that transcends the emotions and sentiments of music. Poetry projects a distinctive musical quality, a musical voice, one that deepens the feelings of what it means to truly be alive. “Given the appropriate container,/ a whole lifetime can be preserved.” Add a few musical terms to the poem's title, like “overture” (a musical introduction) and “sostenuto” (a prolonged, sustained musical note or tone), or even to the content itself, like “bass clef, treble clef” (referring to musical notation and the placement of notes on the stave), and you have a truly musical experience being expressed. Now, here’s a real tongue twister: “hemidemisemiquaver” (perhaps conceivably the fastest possible note, a sixty-fourth note). But the poet, James R. Whitley, sums this up quite eloquently; “there is no proper key for longing.”

James R. Whitley’s collection of poetry, Songs for Solo Voice, is appropriately titled to indicate that his poetry is music, more specifically, songs. There are no lyrics, but one doesn’t really need lyrics for the lyricism of poetry to shine through. This poet has a powerful command of language, and I particularly love his references to music and his clever use of similes and metaphors: “Overhead, the blasé moon hangs/ like a luminous wrecking ball,/ a thirsty razor-sharp pendulum.” And more on stars “like cold unblinking eyes.” This the poet then compares metaphorically to “my emptied home,/ radiant with ruin.” Powerful, insightful words, all transformed into music, songs to be sung solo. There is a lot to appreciate in these poems and it’ll take several readings to appreciate the full breadth of the poet’s nuances.