Thursday, October 7, 2021

Any Dumb Animal by A. E. Hines

Any Dumb Animal
by A. E. Hines
Published November 2021 by Main Street Rag
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and Poetic Book Tours

Publisher's Summary:
Any Dumb Animal (Main Street Rag, 2021), the debut poetry collection by AE Hines, presents a memoir-in-verse as told by a gay man raised in the rural South who comes of age during the AIDS crisis. Flashing back and forth in time, a cast of recurring characters and circumstances are woven into a rich tale of survival and redemption, exploring one man's life as a queer son, father, and husband, over a span of more than thirty years.

My Thoughts: 
A few weeks ago, I posted that a group of anonymous donors would match, dollar for dollar, each pre-sale of this collection of poetry and donate it to The Trevor Project. Having read the publisher's summary for this collection, I thought I knew the reason why. I only knew half of it. 

Perhaps A. E. Hines never attempted suicide. Perhaps he never contemplated it. I don't know that. What I can tell you, after reading this collection that is a memoir of Hines' life, is that it would have been perfectly understandable had he contemplated it. There has been so much pain in his life, so much unrelenting pain and it is so very palpable in this collection. 

The collection opens with a poem, "Phone Call," about a drunken call to tell his father that he hates him and that his only son is gay "like it's some kind of punishment." His father responds "I blame myself...Wasn't hard enough on you. I failed." Trust me when I tell you that is simply not true. In "How We Learn," we learn that Hines' father, understanding his fear of water, "became fond of tossing me into the deep end of pools..." and told Hines that "any dumb animal can learn." 
"Childhood was all about drowning: 
first in the ocean, a few year later
in the river named Fear.
I was too young to understand 
this would be a metaphor for my life."
Early on Hines' learns that his entire family can "only love a man down on his knees." They seem determined to keep him there and Hines' seems to have, for many years, been determined to do that as well. He made poor choices in men, including a spouse who was every bit as abusive as the father who had taught Hines that he deserved nothing better. 

Hines takes readers through the end of his marriage and his divorce; through being a parent, through committing his mother to an asylum; to surviving the AIDS epidemic and then CoVid; and finally, at last, learning to swim in all of the ways that counts. 

As you know, I don't read a lot of poetry, although I'm not sure why not. It is, perhaps, the easiest way to see inside of a person, to feel their pain and their joy. What I've read in the past few years has felt incredibly honest. This collection is the most raw, most heartbreaking, most honest collection I think I've ever read. But it's a tough read and it perhaps explains why I don't pick up more poetry. When it is this emotionally draining, it takes time to recover. 

Thanks to Serena, and Poetic Book Tours for including me on the tour for this collection. For other opinions, check out the full tour here

About the Author: 
AE Hines (he/him) grew up in rural North Carolina and currently resides in Portland, Oregon. His poetry has been widely published in anthologies and literary journals including I-70 Review, Sycamore Review, Tar River Poetry, Potomac Review, Atlanta Review, Crosswinds Poetry Journal and Crab Creek Review. He is winner of the Red Wheelbarrow Prize and has been a finalist for the Montreal International Poetry Prize. He is currently pursuing his MFA in Writing at Pacific University. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

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