Pigeons and Peace Doves, Matthew J. Hall
Blood Pudding Press, 2015
Reviewed by Kayla Greenwell
It is not often I come across a chapbook that incorporates the tangible materials of its binding and pages into the reading experience. The silvery sparkle of the grey pages and the messy, yet endearing thread binding of Matthew J. Hall’s Pigeons and Peace Doves gently pull the reader into a pool of melancholy reflection his poetry creates.
Through the narrator’s stream of consciousness, the reader is able to peer into the thoughts of an often stigmatized and ignored voice—the voice of those who live with mental illness. Hall writes candidly about depression and the contemplation of suicide, and he does justice to the realities of those living with mental health issues. The reader witnesses the narrator struggle. They are in bed with him as he is torn between the grace of the peace dove and the effrontery of the pigeon—the chaos of depression and the peace of mental health. We see this in, “The Full Weight of My Head”:
You seem further away this time, she said
I put my head on her chest
I liked listening to her heart
Because it told the truth
You seem to have gone deeper this time, she said
And ran her fingers through my salt and pepper hair
I let the full weight of my head
Rest on her breast and listened
And fell into the honesty of her steady beat
It won’t always be this way, she reminded me
I love you, she said
And the integrity of her hear spread
And I wept and confessed
I didn’t want to live
But I couldn’t bring myself to tell her
That I had swallowed ever dam tablet in the house
Or that love, even as pure as hers,
Would never be enough.
As someone who suffers from bipolar depression, and has had to overcome many of these similar “thought obstacles” myself, I see the truth in these words. The interactions between the narrator and his lover, the slayer of his sadness, create a dynamic that accurately portrays what it is like to live with a mental illness—the shame, the confusion, and the guilt that comes with not being able to function the way you want to, or think you should.
The confessional nature of these poems, paired with Hall’s lyrical and syntactical choices develop an investment within the reader. However, there are two pieces “Dear Confidence,” and, “Do Not Consider the Poet,” that I feel lack the intimacy of other poems in the collection. That is not to say they aren’t well written, but they lack the stylistic similarities that the other pieces have, and interrupts the relationship that the reader creates with the narrator and his lover.
Depression is human, and I think this is something that Hall does very well. He creates a platform for this type of voice, and not only shows what it is like to live that reality, but responds to those who often ignore or devalue the voices of those with mental health issues. As he so eloquently says in “Childish Advice,” quoted in its entirety:
Try not to miss out on Pigeons and Peace Doves. It really is a beautiful, frank, and emotional collection.