Poetry Editor Clara Burghelea reviews Ticket Stubs & Liner Notes, a poetry collection by Tim Hunt, published in November 2018 by Main Street Rag. Hunt’s most recent collection, Voice to Voice in the Dark, is scheduled for release July 15, 2022, from Broadstone Books.
Ticket Stubs & Liner Notes, winner of the 2018 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, pays tribute to music and pop culture, focusing on the iconic tags of the 1950s and the 1960s. Hunt describes these as “a mix of ticket stubs, liner notes, and recastings of things registered, often without being noticed, at the time.”
The poet further confesses music is the red thread of the collection, a chance to revisit personal memories, an occasion to improvise, or an opportunity to kindly adapt other people’ s experiences. His preface to the collection ends with an invitation to the reader to use the lines of his poems as a way of replaying pieces, songs, and moments in their mind or, for the younger generation, to consider adding old things to their contemporary music lists.
The circular shape of the collection mirrors the perfect outline of a good tune that opens with an instrumental part, imparts a seducing story in an upbeat rhythm, only to repeat, with its encore, the enticing ending. And, like a good song, its message echoes inside the reader’s ears long after the music has died out. The 1st set takes the reader down the memory lane where music begins as the catalyst for melancholy and innocence alike. Some poems are written in the voice of a young person, such as “Please, God,” where the title reverberates the third and the fourth stanzas, making room for the speaker’s ardent desire to get a guitar from his mother.
Please God, I will put my toys away each
night; I will, I swear, even eat my peas
without bribes and threats of no dessert.
Please God, make her give me a guitar.
There is a tension at play in the collection where reminiscence, nostalgia, and melancholy pull and push the reader into and out of times. Music acts like a vehicle of desire; it reconnects the speaker to former selves and allows them to inhabit once more, the skins of youth. In the opening poem of the 2nd Set, “Time-Life: The Sixties: Operators Standing By”, music stands an open invitation to consider how desire survives oblivion: “as if wishes were catfish fishes at a summer night fish fry”. The lines resonate with the following poem, “In this photo that does not exist,” where the speaker’s innocence transports the reader into his world:
My mother worries
the neighbors will think I’m a hippy, dabbing
her eyes at the kitchen window, and it is not
that I don’t care, just I hadn’t thought
to worry about that.
In “Country Joe & The Fish Play the Avalon the Evening U.S. and South Vietnamese Troops Invade the DMZ (San Francisco, May 19, 1967)”, “music is a silence looking down on us”, as the speaker connects to Country Joe on the stage and has his unspoken feelings vibrate with “the redemptive dread of the guitar.” There is a sense of deep connection and shared emotion that rides the collection from poem to poem, portraying places, times, and people in the reader’s mind.
In the 3rd Set, in the poem that closes the section, “Thelonious Monk at The Village Vanguard, New York City (3rd Take),” there is an accumulation of verbs – “sets”, “slides”, “veers”, “pauses”- that points to the musician’s craft, as well as to the speaker’s emotional buildup. Towards the end of the poem, music turns “into a silence echoing out:”
It doesn’t matter what tune; they know all
changes, the rocks and water,
the nothing made everything.
More than praising the effects and seductions of the music of the 1950s and the 1960s, this poetry collection invites us to derive gratitude from our memories and our past, whether driving in the car listening to the radio, or playing a vinyl in the comfort of our home, yet always cherishing the little moments that sing to our hearts.
Tim Hunt is the author of four poetry collections and various scholarly publications. A university professor, he taught American Literature at several universities, received three Pushcart Prize nominations for his work and was awarded the Chester H. Jones National Poetry Prize for the poem “Lake County Elegy.”