Near Truth Only

By Ed Higgins. Fernwood Press, 2023. 112 pages. $17/paperback.

I love a poet who welcomes the reader into his world with open arms.

Consider this. Only a sentence ago we were complete strangers,
oceans of time, distance and thought between us.

These lines from the first poem in Near Truth Only is a fine introduction to Ed Higgins’s observations of nature, human nature, love, spirituality, and the intriguing ironies of daily life. His is an honest and gentle voice, with subtle humor and small surprises. It’s a highly readable book with subjects that many Friends may enjoy exploring.

Higgins, a professor emeritus and writer-in-residence at George Fox University in Newberg, Ore., has been published in many literary journals. He is assistant fiction editor for Brilliant Flash Fiction and an organic farmer based in Yamhill, Ore.

Settings for these poems include ordinary places like the kitchen, bed, and airport. I especially like the details and humor in “Kitchen Fruit Fly Suicides”: “they’re just wine-soaked protein after all.” In a more lyrical poem about the sky, another image stands out: “On days like this / the silvered gray air / sticks in your lungs / like campfire marshmallows.”

An ekphrastic poem in the collection, “The Tohono O’odham: The Desert People,” describes the poet’s reaction to a poignant photograph of a Native American couple in traditional dress—very picturesque. But the poem ends with a brutal reveal about outsiders who claim the right to ask a man and woman to pose naked.

The first two parts of the book cover a wide variety of topics, while the third section is devoted to 16 love poems. Taken singly, each poem features lovely sensual images and emotions; as a group, they risked becoming repetitive in tone, images, and language. This is my one hesitation about recommending the book.

What I especially admire in several poems is Higgins’s invocation of the power of narrative that underlies his—and indeed all writers’—work. “Without the telling of story,” he says, “we are irretrievably lost.” Near Truth Only is one man’s effort to keep the art of storytelling alive.

Catherine Wald is a poet who attends Morningside Meeting in New York City, N.Y.

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