Review: Running at Night by Ned Randle

Running at Night

Ned Randle’s poetry collection Running at Night often touches upon the most humdrum aspects of life, and yet somehow Randle always manages to communicate the sheer beauty and wealth of possibilities we find in the everyday. His collected poems from 1976-2012 find the extraordinary in the ordinary, even reassurance in the grotesque, and nourishment in both simple and humble spaces.

A keen observer, many of his poems deal with matters as ordinary as the plains in his native Illinois: “I Sit in the Garden and Talk” and “Across the Table She Looks at Him”. But flowing just below the surface is an undercurrent of honesty and pain that is soothing in its reliability.

With muddy rivers full of fish, grassy banks, lazy dogs, and a cat slinking out of the barn, the sense of place resonates vibrantly in these pages. Randle creates powerful images that both dazzle and revolt. For example, the young kids in “Savages” who, like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, lay shirtless in the grass sharing a stolen cigarette:

          we would suck the smoke across our juice stained 
          tongues and silently stare at the cloudless 
          sky thinking about the day in our future

          when we would have to buy our cigarettes
          and secret them in the starched shirt pocket
          of a lost dream dressed nattily for death

The form, its unpunctuated open-endedness, is reminiscent of that endless feeling in childhood of being immortal. Also in true immature form, they muse on smoking without even realizing that in retrospect the beauty of that moment would be where and with whom they were, not the cigarette.

The poet writes of leaving the plains to go to some “gifted” metropolis in “Odyssey”, but much like Odysseus he would only want to return home. Rather than romanticize, the poet isn’t afraid to show Mother Nature’s more grotesque side and knowing that side is a universal certainty to take comfort in. We see this in the repurposed hearts in “Misplaced”:

          by the sight—someone has turned the heart 
          into a dry den of sticks and straw
          and the black bids inside the chambers caw.

Although misplaced, abandoned, or disowned, everything in rural Illinois finds its way back into the circle of necessity. That reassurance often requires the poet to fold a matter back on itself, turning it on its head. For instance, the reader feels the comfort of discomfort within the repetition at the close of “Insomnia”:

          opposing forces of sun and moon
          create in him a fitful soul,
          a foamy neap tide in his heart,
          a rise and fall, a rise and fall.

All these perpetuate the common thread in Running at Night that the most unlikely of places and everyday encounters are both the meat of experience and the reward in life.

About the Author Ned RandleI have published a few short stories, the most recent, “The Amazing Doctor Jones”, in Cigale Literary Magazine, Summer 2012. My poems have been published, or will be published, in a number of poems in literary publications such as The Spoon River Quarterly, Circus Maximus, Seven Stars Poetry, Poydras Review, Emerge Literary Journal, Barnwood International Poetry Magazine, The New Poet, Hamilton Stone Review (Sept. 2012) and Four Ties Literary Review (Fall 2012). My chapbook, Prairie Shoutings and Other Poems, was published by The Spoon River Poetry Press, Bradley University.