The Ones Within
by Sean Lause
52 poems ~ 70 pages
To Order: Amazon
Reviewed by Michael Escoubas
Occasionally, the cover art of a poetry collection captures my attention. The Ones Within
presents a powerful cover-image commensurate with the times we are living in.
Concerning the job of the poet, no less a luminary than Maria Popova, Founder and
Editor of Brain Pickings, has this to say, “To be an artist is to be a human being who
feels everything more deeply, the beautiful as well as the terrible, and builds of those
feelings bowers where others may safely and sacredly process their own.” I don’t know if
Sean Lause is familiar with Popova’s well-circulated dictum or not. However, his work is
marked by a singular sensitivity to Popova’s intent.
The cover features a portion of President Trump’s wall along America’s southern border.
The wall is hard, intractable. Embedded within this image is a mother engaging her
daughter who plays on a pink teeter-totter mounted within the wall’s slats. A child on the
other side is playing too. Soft interacts with hard. Power contrasts with weakness, a
volume of poems revealed by the cover.
The work is divided in three parts: “Colors of the Spirit,” “The Other as Salvation” and
“From Walt Whitman’s America to Donald Trump’s America.” Each section makes its
own unique contribution to Lause’s exploration of the human condition. His poems find
tributaries within the personal and the societal as these relate to American life in the
present moment. After all the present moment IS the poet’s concern, as is history and
change. Lause’s work does not neglect any of these dimensions.
“Nature always wears the colors of the spirit,” a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson,
opens Part One. Emerson’s insight, that the natural world parallels the inner worlds of
men and women, lives large in Lause’s work. “The man who turned inside-out” starts us
In a sudden wind,
his mind turned inside-out
like an umbrella.
The poem develops offering a transformative effect on the protagonist:
Poems dropped gently with the leaves,
and books read deep into their readers.
Then another wind
turned the world inside-out
and he blossomed into darkness and light.
In “All creatures small,” the poet frames a boy, “leaping like Pinocchio / from a terrible
truth.” // His innocent heart cannot bear to kill even an ant. With studious attention, “Now
he is lifting worms with a stick / to place them gently in the grass / where they hide like
wide grins. // What have we lost in the midst of technological and scientific
advancement? Is there room in such a world for even one sensitive soul? “All creatures
small” closes with the poet’s tender response:
His cause is hopeless but undeterred.
He is as sane as sunlight,
pure as the intent of stars.
His war to set this world aright
shames me I my peace.
Moving into Part Two, “The Other as Salvation,” readers encounter a quote by T.S. Eliot
drawn from his play The Cocktail Party. “What is hell? Hell is oneself. / Hell is alone, the
other figures in it / merely projections.” // The play, one of Eliot’s most successful of the
seven he wrote, explores themes of deception, honesty and reconciliation between an
estranged married couple. With this broad foundational floor in place consider, “The
daguerreotype’s unanswered questions”: the poet discovers a copy of his high school
yearbook in which his classmates and friends are all smiling … all of them that is, but
Was the photo portrait always this way?
Here’s a photograph of Anna Dostoevsky,
1863. She is not smiling.
She looks back through the lens to me,
as if demanding a response.
The poem plumbs the tension between the genuine and the artificial. Smiles are at a
premium in these vintage, grainy chiaroscuro photos. Yet the poet projects serious
attention to the soul of Anna and of Emily Dickinson, attention to what matters in life at
life’s deepest levels. Are we missing something today, within our superficial projections
As readers step into Part Three: “From Walt Whitman’s America to Donald Trump’s
America,” they encounter sage words from Whitman himself, words that many today are
internalizing if not saying out loud:
For starting westward from Hindustan,
From the vales of Kashmere,
From Asia, from the north, from the god, the sage, the hero …
Now I face home again, very pleas’d and joyous.
But where is what I started for so long ago?
And why is it yet unfound?
In this excerpt from Whitman’s 11-line poem, Lause capsulizes all of Part Three. With
hints of immigration imagined from the farthest reaches of America’s western border,
America is the incomparable country that she is, due in large part to her open arms that
embrace newcomers. Lause is passionate, along with Whitman, who queries, “And why
is it yet unfound?” It is important to note that the speaker in this passage is personified as
America. As far back as 1860, (the year of composition), Whitman is sensitive to our
nation’s destiny and concerned about it.
In unforgettable poems such as “The Eyes of Leo Frank,” Lause explores the theme of
racial injustice. Consider the plight of Leo Frank, a black man unjustly accused of
murdering a young girl named Mary Phagan, “The crime they screamed was never
mine.”// Though her death was tragic, Frank’s eyes could see, “I was dead / before the
first gavel banged.” // The poet challenges his audience with hard realities, hard questions
that persist today in rude cauldrons of hate that too often remain ignored.
I opened my review with a word from Maria Popova: “To be an artist is to be a human
being who feels everything more deeply, the beautiful as well as the terrible, and builds
of those feelings bowers where others may safely and sacredly process their own.” To
this end, Sean Lause’s, The Ones Within is eminently faithful.