Tuned: Selected Poems, Kyla Houbolt

My favorite thing in a poem is surprise. My other favorite thing in a poem is whatever I find when I re-read the poem and it still surprises me. I’ve been reading and re-reading Kyla Houbolt’s Tuned (Sedition Editions/CCCP Chapbooks, 2020) and I am very happily surprised.

Sometimes the surprise is like this:


I will continue to clench my jaw

I will continue to see

a horse in all things

I will not be able to ride the horse

it is wild

it knows better

than to take the bit.

Did you expect that horse? Neither did I, but that wild horse is exactly the thing that should appear in this poem and every time it does, I’m going to wonder how it got there and be glad it did.

There are a lot of creatures in these poems: frogs, a goat, hummingbirds, tiny fishes, a duck who is a monster (because “we are all monsters in disguise”), and many owls, including a marvelous owl whose “hollow sound”

opens a hole in the dark air

oh I want to go in there

wrap me in soft feathered howl

while the night wind blows

and gusts and spins its ruin faster—

I really like that owl, but I like even more how the poet embraces that howl-hole in the air, and the ruin therein. It’s a little frightening. She is not frightened. I don’t think she is ever frightened.

From what I’ve been able to learn, Houbolt has been writing for a very long time but has only begun publishing within the last couple of years. She lives in North Carolina and has been hanging poems in trees in a local park. I don’t mention that to say, “Oh, how charming!” I mention that because I love the ethos of it: making the poems public and part of nature. I’m moved and a little humbled by her dedication to that project, and I rather wish I had found some of these poems while walking in my own local park on Christmas day—what a gift that would be!

Houbolt is a poet of moments, those being the moments in which a poem happens. I would love to share each of those moments with you, and I can if you go here. And then please share them with someone else: these marvelous poems fearlessly resist everything that conspires to keep us from yielding to the surprise each moment offers.

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