I got to know Denton Loving through his short stories, which are born of the Appalachian rural landscape that raised him. Later, when I read his first collection of poems, Crimes Against Birds (Main Street Rag, 2014), I again found a strong sense of place, as well as speakers and characters as fully realized as in his fiction.
While the poem I’ve chosen, “Letter to My Lover as Abraham Lincoln,” moves away from that geography, it also maneuvers differently, takes larger leaps. While still very much identifiable as written by Loving, this poem is made of muscle and exhilaration; it makes assertions and takes sharper turns. Where the poems in Crimes Against Birds benefited by restraint, here we see free association and the speaker’s imagination uncoiling, which fits well with the ekphrastic understory, and more specifically, with the motives behind Surrealism.
Loving uses the device of a Dali image and surrealism to mark the speaker’s thoughts of identity, illusion, and trickery. When contrasted with the reserve that typified Abraham Lincoln, the poem propels from the assumptions of the past into the wilder, more knowing future. The poet grew up on a college campus named for Lincoln, so it is easy to imagine that that president’s legacy/legend was a constant presence. As shown in the poem, shedding certain “knowns” of youth is necessary in order to stand up for one’s adult self, particularly when faced with heartbreak.
The speaker moves from a place of comfort (albeit ill-placed) to one of trust in the self. One wonders if this would have been possible without the change in locale and the encounter with Gala. The poet trusts us, the reader, to follow the leaps and turns he makes, ultimately sharing the speaker’s victory.