Less Fortunate Pirates
by Bryan Borland
Sibling Rivalry Press, $14.95, 87 pages
Review byÂ Michael Ernest Sweet
I don’t often write book reviews anymore. I simply don’t have the time or interest. However, when Bryan Borland’sÂ Less Fortunate PiratesÂ came across my desk, I simply could not resist. Subtitled Poems From the First Year Without my Father the volume of verse hit home from the very beginning. I too lost my father unexpectedly and I know that following year well. I could hardly wait to read someone else’s account of what I secretly suspected was more of a universal experience than it often felt.
Poem after poem, Borland does indeed conjure up the universal through his most intimate and personal encounters with grief. At once I was reading the account of a stranger and yet reading my own experience with the loss of a loved one. It was both haunting and yet profoundly comforting. From struggling with acceptance to assuming responsibility as the â€œman of the house,â€ Borland delivers poetry which is simple and accessible yet, at the same time, stunningly beautiful and movingly sincere.
With each page, each line, Borland carefully walks a tightrope between the insanity of grief and the raw experience of life. He brings us close enough to take comfort in knowing that someone else has also seen a lost loved one in the shadows of the night, but yet stops comfortably short of peddling ghost stories. The effect is that I can read this volume and know it is from the heart of experience and others, less acquainted with this form of grief, can enjoy its message without being overwhelmed with the drama of trauma.
The poems here are short. They strike at the essence of a particular emotion or experience in this year of grief. There is but a poem or two which spills beyond a page. This I appreciate. Borland sets the scene with an economy of words to be envied by the best of writers. He then closes the majority of his poems with a crescendo of emotion; a line which cuts like death itself. The result is breathtaking.
The poetry in this volume illuminates the everyday of grief. We are shown that one need not be at a cemetery or hospital to feel the pain of loss. While we are taken through Christmas and Father’s Day we are equally taken through the days between â€“ the moments made remarkable only for the overwhelming pain which they deliver. This talent is shown perhaps best in How to Carve a Turkey reproduced here in its entirety:
Here it is, my place
at the head of the table,
in the avalanche of responsibility.
How to shave, yes,
how to buy a car,
now I reach for the knife;
I have to kill this bird by hand.
Whether you’ve lived the premature death of a loved one, or merely waken in the night breathless to the thought of it, this text will resonate from beginning to end. Less Fortunate Pirates is grief as it should be written. The emotion is raw and the delivery compact. I thank Bryan Borland for this worthy contribution. I can only guess at Borland’s struggle in committing this to paper. I imagine the manuscript for this volume stained with tears of sadness and joy â€“ of anger and relief, just like every page in my copy.