Bugle by Tod Marshall
Canarium Books, 2014; 50 pp
Reviewed by Vladislav Frederick


“It might be well to mention here that a bugle is sounded, not blown”

--from “Buccinator”, p.3 of Bugle

Bugle is a rare and delightful find: a collection that both perfectly embodies and is perfectly embodied by its title. Tod Marshall’s lyrical mastery sings through each page, through frequent rhymes and strategic caesuras, through commas and line breaks that let each verse bloom into the next like the growing petals of a sunflower.

Bugle sounds as an answer to death, which lurks frequently within Marshall’s poems, coming out in scenes of natural decay or predation, or in earnest memories. Consider the following first lines from “At The Lake”, p.21 of Bugle:

A boy sits on a dock except he’s not
a boy, he’s a small man seen from afar,
a father, mine, with black hair still, and the doctor
say’s he’s not well, but he won’t go now, sure,
he’s got at least a while, although Mr. Wood
(next door) noticed red algae on the rocks
and a huge carp washed up dead on the beach.

Marshall gets away with a great amount of in-line rhyme without erring into sing-song; “dock/not, man/seen, father/doctor” are in-line rhymes, one after another, yet all inflect just subtly enough to come across smoothly. Perhaps this is because of Marshall’s progressive build-up of pause: from one pause in the first line to two pauses in the second and three in the third, the progressive pacing of each line allows the individual components of in-line rhymes to flesh out more before meeting their match.

Bugle is a gritty yet satisfying piece of work, and an exquisite sample of lyrical craftsmanship. As a parting gift, see the following full-length excerpt of “Meltdown.”

O sunflower, feed me your seeds,
let me scavenge your face
as if scraping light from the sun,
give you handfuls of wind
and water and puke blue--
blue sparrows, blue salt,
blue toothpicks, blue ties,
berries, boo-hoo, and sky.