A Review of Skinny Dipping in Daylight
Darrell A. Harris
Poet Cory Basil tells us in his introduction to his fine volume Skinny Dipping in Daylight “the seasons of the soul and spirit do not follow those of the solstice and equinox.” How fortunate I am to have read this vulnerable and elegant work by one who minded and kept the seasons of the soul and spirit.
He observes late in the book “Poetry does not pay. But I need it and so do you.” Brother Basil is spot-on about the second two observations. And while I understand what he’s saying in the first, I would definitely take issue with him on it. His poetry has already yielded him the soul equilibrium that eludes so many. Rare coinage indeed. And now his willingness to share it with others allows us to be enriched by it too.
This racehorse of a poet comes out of the chute full throttle. The poem Blue Manifesto sets the tone of the journey with world-weary yet whimsical wisdom: “I know what I need needs me not, I know what I want wants me not.” And shortly thereafter in Abandoned Drifter he boldly petitions: “Spit me out of the whale. Part me a Red Sea then show me dry land.”
And with the mention of a whale, I should interrupt myself right here and say this volume is a whale of a bargain. I’m used to paying a small fortune for slim volumes of poetry I care about. These poems make me care deeply. And there are nearly 500 pages of deep and moving reflection. (I probably should quickly add I am not being paid to tell you that, lest you think I am wrongly motivated.) O.K. Back to business.
In the poem These Strange Days Mr. Basil chronicles the hollowness in the aftermath of the holocaust of personal loss. Then Hiding the Hyde confides the stewing bewilderment of the perplexed Jekyll in everyman. With Scrapbook and Tape reveals reverie about “how one’s deadly imagination fills the blanks between the frames.” We are so dishonest with ourselves. And so irresolute. In Jet Black Hair our confessor writes: You held tightly, and I let go far too soon.” These ruminations on the how and the why of lost love bring illumination rather than despair, peace rather than angst.
The soundtrack of young love (all loves have a soundtrack) is contemplated in The Year Oasis Owned my Discman. Already Stranger lets us observe the poet’s euphoria of new love, followed by the pointless pain of ensuing freefall ala Gotye’s Someone That I Used to Know.
We also get perceptive insight into the therapeutic nature of writing. Brenda Euland says in her 1930s classic If You Want to Write that everyone can and should write. In Basil's book he says, “I can always go back to my writing; it never rejects – It looks at me fearfully and wonders if I will abandon it. But I won’t – It’s too easy. It’s cheating the noise, a free pass to sanity, an excuse to live.”
This world would be a kinder, gentler place if we all took the time and effort to process our loves and losses, vitriol and victories on the page before moving on to the next thing. That’s what is so engaging and even hopeful about Mr. Basil’s generous contribution of Skinny Dipping in Daylight.
I should also add that I just gotta love a poet who listens to Vanessa Paradis and reads Thomas Merton. His thoughtfully chosen influences doubtless spur him on to the elegance of this work . . . Neruda fueling his “lust for love” and Bukowski helping him “keep it honest, simple and straight.” Would to God that more of our contemporary artists had such refined, eclectic and exceptional taste.
In the latter part of Skinny Dipping in Daylight we are treated to a number of journal entries. These are like coveted bonus tracks on a deluxe collector’s edition CD box. They help us put these slices of the poet’s soul in the context of life as we all live it. And he says so sweetly: “Somewhere in my soul I pray it” (his writing) “touches another – I find the loneliness of poetry to be a comfort.” And comforting as well as illuminating, it truly is.
May I also add that Cory Basil’s provocative title does not portend an ill- advised burst of emotional and psychological exhibitionism? Rather, this book is a confident and trusting confession after much pain and loss. He probably has earned the right to rant. But he limits himself to only a couple brief flashes. They seem well deserved. And they end up seeming like essential peppery seasonings in a deliciously savory and nutritious dish.
Dr. Darrell A. Harris co-founded Star Song Records in 1976. He was its President for twenty years, serving as Executive Producer for multiple recordings by Newsboys, Twila Paris, Gaithers, Petra and many others.
In the early ‘90s Dr. Harris was Executive Editor of The Complete Library of Christian Worship (Robert E. Webber, ed.) He now serves as Dean of the Chapel to the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies, and as a Trustee of the Gospel Music Trust Fund.
Harris resides with Janet, his wife of forty-three years in Franklin, Tennessee. They have two daughters and six grandchildren.
Additional note: Skinny Dipping in Daylight releases today. You can order autographed copies through Cory's website at hereliescorybasil.com