I have been nibbling away for some time now at a slim volume of poetry entitled From Tradition and Away From Tradition, by Andrew Huntley. Huntley’s work has appeared in these pages a handful of times, and four of those offerings are present in this collection of poems from 2001 to 2014. Born in Fiji to Australian parents who moved the family back to Australia when Andrew was 12, Huntley is a convert to Roman Catholicism. Not surprisingly, given the title of this collection, his devotion to the Church’s more traditional wing is on display herein.
That devotion expresses itself beautifully in such poems as “On Praying for All Those Who Have Died Lonely Deaths,” a profound meditation on both the state of souls in Purgatory and God’s existence outside of time, and the lengthy (autobiographical?) “The Plough & The Cross,” which closes out the volume; and even where one might not expect it, such as a poem bearing the title “Lament for the Latest Female Backpacker Murdered.”
Yet other poems slip into didacticism, and lose their artfulness; “The ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ Exit March” is about what one might expect from the title, while “Against Certain Catholic Fantasts” oddly contrasts Pius IX unfavorably with Abraham Lincoln, whom Huntley sees as clothed in “the cope / Of Heaven, as he wrought to make men free.” (Lord Acton, who famously opposed Pius’s promulgation of the doctrine of papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council, would nonetheless likely find this comparison beyond the pale, since he understood far better than Huntley what was at stake in the American Civil War, as his postwar correspondence with Robert E. Lee makes clear.)
Despite such clunkers, this handsomely typeset and well-bound volume has much to recommend it, including my favorite of Huntley’s poems, “Closing Tolkien,” first printed in these pages in August 2004.
First published in the June 2016 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.