N. Colwell Snell (better known as "Ned") is a gifted poet with Wyoming roots in Big Horn country, specifically Cowley, though he now lives in Salt Lake City. He is also Utah's Poet of the Year and winner of the 2007 Pearle M. Olsen Publication Award.
Snell mines his small-town beginnings to great advantage in "Hand Me My Shadow," a lively, thoughtful collection of poetry.
His title poem speaks of "Cottonwood leaves crackling under feet. ... So soon from green to this, I could a few dozen autumns swept away by pompous gusts like this one ripping at my face."
It's fitting that this volume appears just as summer in Utah is being snatched away by winter, leaving fall for another year.
Another poem, "Freak Snow," complains that the "cosmos is in disarray."
Snell's poems are diverse but wild, marked by his first memories of hog-butchering in Wyoming, resulting in "powerful men ... huddled like a prehistoric mob ... they searched my eyes, watched me stagger, coughing and retching, in the crisp footprinted frost."
In "Things To Do With Bottles," Snell talks of bottled fruit (peaches, pears and cherries); milk going from the pail to "wide-mouth bottles where it sat until the cream rose to the top"; the game "spin the bottle" done in a circle, and he hopes it will stop on "Linda Croft, and I still feel that swift electric kiss."
But now Snell "bottles" words that make "outrageous promises."
Especially moving is "Vietnam Memorial" (Washington, D.C.), where people come "in clusters" and "Mothers, never able to forget lean heavy on the wall searching, then finger the inscription as if to silence the sticky nightmares that followed them home, kiss each letter as if to breathe life back to the bones. ... "
Snell pays humble tribute to his father, a "fix-it man, who could, with the fire in his eyes, turn a gnarled branch into a desk lamp." He fished with him in the high Uintas, and with his death, "my tongue is a fire, consuming everything I failed to learn."
Back to Cowley, where he remembers a "first love," lost now, "your voice, your music vanished, since we last walked the outskirts of our small town, my arm loose around your shoulder, your hand stuck in my back pocket all the way home."
Finally, "Wild horses" kick up "swirling dust ... their sand-soaked manes heavy on their necks, tails at half-mast, vanishing shadows from the past, skimming bowels of the austere plains, stretching toward the twilight of the West."
One of Snell's finest poems is about poets Maxine Kumin, Henry Taylor, Judy Jordan, Wordsworth, James Tate, Lola Haskins, Stephen Dunn and the rules they break.
And for anyone who vividly remembers Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film "Psycho," there is a sweet, feverish memory over the loss of Janet Leigh's character in that terrible shower scene.Snell's volume reveals his huge talent in broad dimensions. It's a keeper you'll want to read more than once.
If you go . . .
What: "Hand Me My Shadow" reading, N. Colwell Snell
Where: Salt Lake City Main Library Auditorium, 210 E. 400 South
When: Friday, 7 p.m.Cost: free
E-mail: [email protected]