George HS Singer’s poetry collection, Ergon, is impressive in its use of language. Singer does a great job painting portraits of various people and bringing to life glimpses of the ordinary through his poems. I’d already been impressed by the poem “To Charlotte Who Fled Hitler” (you can read the poem and Singer’s guest post on his inspiration for it here), and I enjoyed getting a chance to read the entire collection.
I knew the poetry within these pages would be profound as soon as I saw that the collection opened with the definition of “ergon” according to Aristotle: “The core function or purpose of something or someone. Virtue arises when the ergon is realized fully.” Right away I new these would be poems best suited for multiple readings, but thankfully I was able to glean some meaning just reading through them one time.
Singer’s use of imagery really stood out to me in “Tiny Fish,” particularly in these lines:
My wife stroked his feet, (no bigger than a doll’s).
Small hands opened as if to wave and soon
curled and closed like the tendrils of a sea anemone.
His ability to tell stories in just a handful of lines comes through best in the title poem, “Ergon”:
my sorrowing angry father, not ever, not even once,
speak the names of his little sister nor of his
big brother, carrying this secret to his grave
My favorite poem in the collection, “Our Quotidian,” shows the evolution of a marriage and brings to life the everyday tasks, monotony, and annoyances in living with someone so long:
You vacuum, I mop.
I know your smell and you, my snore.
In line at the market, you lean into me,
Grazing my shoulder with the warm loaf
of your breast, I tap your thigh–still here,
together in the quotidian.
Furthermore, there were many observations that stood out to me in their wisdom, like these lines in “In Which He Explains Why He Bowed to the Dead Moth Stuck on His Door”:
Death can never be more than a thought. Until.
Best then to make it a kindly thought.
Ergon touches upon many topics, from nature, spirituality, and life/aging/death to memory and the complex workings of the mind. But where the collection shines is in Singer’s detailed observations of life, from the animals that inhabit the world to everyday tasks, with hints of sexuality, humor, and a sense of peace.
About the Poet
George HS Singer, a former Zen Buddhist monk and student of Rev. Master Jiyu Kennett, lives with his wife of forty-two years in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he works as a professor at University of California, Santa Barbara. He was educated at Yale, Southern Oregon University, and the University of Oregon. He wrote poetry in college but took a twenty-year break before taking it up as a regular discipline. He has been a long term student of Molly Peacock and has had the opportunity to work with other marvelous poets through the Frost Place in Franconia, N.H. He writes about life in and out of a Zen monastery, trying to live mindfully in a busy and troubled world, his love of nature and of his wife. The arts have become more central to his life. Singer’s poems were published in the Massachusetts Review, Prairie Schooner, and Tar River Poetry.
George Singer’s Ergon is precise, delicate and fierce in its engagement with the world.
George HS Singer, a former Buddhist monk, has written a debut collection of poems about his life as a monk and in the monastery and about his life when he left to marry and have a family. As he tries to balance his spiritual principles with every day life as a husband and father, these poems utilize nature as a backdrop for his quest.
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Disclosure: I received Ergon from the author for review.
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