Friday, February 6, 2009


Blood Ties & Brown Liquor
Review by Missy McEwen

Sean Hill's Blood Ties & Brown Liquor is divided into four sections and the pages that are used for the sections' titles resemble the backs of postcards and the cover of the book is like the front of a postcard (cover illustration: Detail of McIntosh Street by Frank Stanley Herring). Even the feel of the book (glossy, smooth to the touch) reminds me of a postcard. It is as if the reader has been sent a postcard, not just from Milledgeville, Georgia, but from another century and the poems are what is scribbled down (in the neatest handwriting) on the back, written by the relative with a knack for writing and storytelling. He sends you postcards about "Red-brown" Benny:
"Benny's handsome, red-brown like rust on a hoe…
The day is empty like a cicada's husk clinging to a tree,
empty like sound after the mule's kick when Benny falls, free
of this place then the hum of a bee and cry of a Jay.
Benny's skin red-brown like rust on a hoe is empty
as a cicada's husk clinging to a tree." -- from "Elegy for an Older Brother 1922"
He sends well-written, poetic postcards about the "..Georgia heat," "Silas & Mulberries 1917" and "Nigger Street 1937":
"McIntosh Street the sign reads
like the apple red but not
red delicious red but red
like redeye gravy on grits
at Gus's or red like stoplights
but they're also green and yellow
like apples in Allen's Market
on the corner…" -- from "Nigger Street 1937"
Postcards of memories, mostly memories:
"In the spring of '43 you went
to the prom. There was a band…
Lucien Walker spun records. You'd sewn your
own dress---white with bright red apples.
Your father didn't allow you to court.
Said you had to invite a girl. Your date was
Lucille Jackson…" -- from "#5: Going to the Prom"

"When I asked, you told me this quiet family lore.
I didn't do no courting worth nothing
cause daddy was so strict
. In May of '44
when you were seventeen--an innocent thing--
wouldn't be eighteen for seven months yet,
you eloped. Said: He lived right cross the street
there right cross the street
." -- from "#6: Courting"
Blood Ties & Brown Liquor is made up of "records," and "certificates of death and birth" and life -- life as it was in Milledgeville, Georgia, a town with mockingbirds and Flannery O'Connor's grave (there's a poem about it -- "In Memory Hill Cemetery"). In Sean Hill's book, the reader sees, hears, and feels Milledgeville and its people:

"Hear those cicadas building and falling
in rounds? Ain't as soothing as the steady
buzz of bees. Sounds like the whole church
testifying or a car's whine when the belt's
loose..." -- from "Milledgeville Evening Song"

"There was this high yellow man,…
lived up the road/from us when I was a boy…
He raised bees for honey.
[His wife] made candles from the beeswax." -- from "Milledgeville Evening Song"

"All night heavy moonlight dampened
echoes of the curfew bell that rang us in.

Nathaniel stole the little cool
from the late August night that touched my skin

the way the silver I polish and my mistress's
looking glass on first touch took the warmth of my

curious finger…" -- from "Milledgeville Aubade 1831"

Fiction it may be (the back of the book has a blurb about the poems in Blood Ties & Brown Liquor being about "the family of the fictional Silas Wright, a black man born in 1907"), but the feelings are real; the characters are real; the town is real (Sean Hill is from Milledgeville, Georgia). Sean Hill has created a civilization and I forget that Silas Wright is fictional. With an imagination like this, I cannot imagine Sean Hill ever having writer's block. Sean Hill's Blood Ties & Brown Liquor is innovative, creative, and inspiring.

To pick up a copy (and cop-a-feel -- the book's feel is awesome) of Sean Hill's Blood Ties & Brown Liquor, published by The University of Georgia Press (2008), go to (There you will find a list of places where Blood Ties & Brown Liquor can be purchased). And to learn more about Sean Hill go to:

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