Ceaselessly Casting About: On Scott Hightower's Persistence in Grief and Poetry
by Dylan Webster
Imperative to Spare (Rebel Satori Press, 2023) is Scott Hightower’s newest offering of poetic power, and that word, imperative, is apt. Every line of verse in this collection shines with its own imperative. He writes out of necessity, perhaps to live, or continue; perhaps to inspire those around him to live. Whatever impels Hightower to write, this muse is singing loudly through his poetry. He writes with a voice imbued with the intensity of youthful passion, and yet retaining a certain wisdom only gained through experience.
The range of this collection is vast and impressive, spanning over 170 pages of poetry, which is an impressive output from any poet, but especially so when each poem can strike chords and work together for the whole. This on its own is an impressive accomplishment. The reader will find themselves taking breaks, needing to recover from the depth of the meditation. As in his thoughts in the line from The World is Full of Beautiful Things, “He will not have to endure the kindness/ of friends or strangers, the stares/ of a city…” This is particularly poignant in a culture often obsessed with the depressed individual dwelling upon their own internal thoughts; yet here in this poem and all throughout this collection, Hightower reminds us of the persistence of love in grief. The aftermath of loss, the love that does not pass when one person does. It is, oddly, a reminder to cherish the “Beautiful Things.”
Yet again, in On My Own, the poet reminds us of the persistence of being, “of gratitude; the odd parallax/ of death… and desuetude./ Resignation is the saddest virtue./ Much like returning to a familiar/ landscape after a long trip.” He dwells in a place that is not purely sadness, nor nostalgia, but a deep grief and loving remembrance. This proves the art in this book, Hightower’s ability to travel to liminal spaces hard to capture in words. Which he manages to do, and like a prophet, he brings back those devastating images to us.
In the titular poem, he writes “That morning I stepped/ to the edge and I,/ a bionic eye, am watching/ him fall away/ in slow motion.” By composing this collection in the way Hightower has, we have followed him in devastating grief and remembrances after the fact. But here, we are in the moment with him, and the energy that is carried in these lines is crushing. This is a wonderful accomplishment, since it brings the collection together as a whole, and not merely a smattering of good individual poems. This is a collection curated by a storyteller, and we are spellbound.
One of the recurring lines and refrains in this collection is the idea “ceaselessly casting about.” This is hauntingly simple, and strikingly true. Throughout the collection, the reader is not certain if the poet is saying this of himself, or if this true for all of us. As Imperative to Spare progresses, we come to learn that maybe this is indeed indicative of our collective condition. This is, again, the work of a wise and masterful craftsman, the work of a poet who is so truly in tune with not only his own feelings and experiences, but with ours as well.
This is not more clearly pronounced as in the masterful conclusion to this collection, Urgent Care, a long poem that captures the spirit of the entire collection. “Tell me my voice is too loud./ That I should take my cues–/ rather than from Texas bravado – more/ from how a small thing/ of the world survives.” What else is a better summation of an Imperative to Spare? Perhaps to spare yourself the pain of self-abuse. A perfect conclusion to a collection split into five acts, the final one named “Renaissance,” to bring back that will to find joy. This is a devastating, beautiful, and elegant collection of human poetry, capturing the totality of our spirit. Our spirit, and Hightower’s persevering spirit.
Dylan Webster (he/him) lives and writes in the sweltering heat of Phoenix, AZ. He is the author of the poetry collection Dislocated (Quillkeepers Press, 2022), and his poetry and fiction have appeared, and are forthcoming in, anthologies by Quillkeepers Press and Neon Sunrise Publishing; as well as the journals Ghost City Review, Resurrection Mag, The Dillydoun Review, Last Leaves, The Cannons Mouth by Cannon Poets Quarterly, Amethyst Review, and The Chamber Magazine. Dylan has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize as well as the Best of The Net.