Ode to El Camino de Santiago and Other Poems of Journey
by James Green
18 poems ~ 29 pages
Publisher: Resource Publications, imprint of Wipf and Stock
To Order: https://wipfandstock.com
or, from the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reviewed by Michael Escoubas
James Green describes Ode to El Camino de Santiago and Other Poems of Journey as a variety of poetic styles with the connecting link of “journey.” The interesting part is that “journey” involves a range of applications. The term can indicate a trip, tour, travel, excursion, voyage, flight, and probably a lot more. That said, Green’s verse features a sophisticated “layering” of journey.
From the outset Green’s love of travel is evident. Peripatetic to a fault, Green was an officer in the United States Navy. His academic career has taken him to Southeast Asia, India, Europe, Morocco, and to various locations in the UK, especially Ireland.
El Camino de Santiago in English means The Way of St. James. (The James in view is James, Son of Zebedee, one of the twelve apostles.) Encompassing approximately 500 miles beginning at Saint Jean Pied de Port, France, determined sojourners trek through Spain’s challenging terrain, reaching their destination at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia.
Travel, for Green, is more than simply moving from one place to another. The poet is a tour guide on a reflective journey that nurtures the inner person. On a personal note, I regard writing poetry as a journey toward ever-increasing spiritual depth. Thus, when Green avers that journey is “more than mere travel to other places,” he hits me where I live.
The layered subtleties of Green’s work are amply illustrated in this excerpt from the volume’s title poem, “Ode to El Camino de Santiago”:
To find El Camino de Santiago
begin wherever light and shadow mingle,
wherever questions stubbornly stay tangled
in threads of worn-out pieties and the soul
speaks to a longing for discovery
of the pilgrim’s way, points the heart’s compass
toward healing and offers silent witness
to that part of you that is solitary.
Before a journey begins, travelers must take inventory to ensure they have everything they need. Similarly, for Green, the “journey” begins by taking stock of our lives, by facing places of uncertainty … those places where “light and shadow mingle.” It is the lack of clarity, quite often, that presents challenges. There are times when “worn-out pieties” simply aren’t enough to get us through. Green understands this. Hence, his verse “points the heart’s compass,” toward what can only be found when one appeals “to that part of you that is solitary.”
A point of interest for me, aside from the spiritual elements inherent in Ode to El Camino de Santiago, is being placed in the action. Green’s poems are poems this reviewer enjoys because they are good poems. Many describe landscapes, snowcapped mountains, (“In the High Sierras”) swamps (“The Okefenokee”) and seascapes (“Summer Solstice on the West Coast of Ireland”).
I was fascinated by “Morning on Soi Charoen Krung 85, Near Wat Worachanyawas, Bangkok.” This unique poem describes morning at a market in Bangkok, Thailand. Green captures the odors of boiling peanuts in cauldrons, fish packed in ice, monks collecting alms, stray cats, the blare of taxi horns as a neighborhood greets the day. These are priceless. Indeed, they are the very “stuff” of meditation. How can we go deeper in life without an appreciation of people … people alive, breathing, struggling, living their lives by the lights they have been given?
I noted earlier the rich layering of James Green’s verse. In “Tonight There Are No Stars,” a lovely sonnet, Green blends the most basic form of travel as a means of touching that part of you that is solitary.
Tonight there are no stars, there is no sky,
only yellow smudges from streetlights glow
like ghosts eyes from inside the fog that lies
heavy laden like a melting cloud low
to the ground while gauzy silhouettes appear,
fade, vanish, regather themselves in a hush
like phantasms hovering in mutable air
beyond the scope of sound or realm of touch.
It’s why I like to walk alone on nights
like this: The edges soften, silence speaks,
opaqueness mutes what stirs disquiet, lights
awakening, as low-anchored mist leaks
onto my skin, into my pores, and thought
dissolves into a presence stillness brought.