Clear and Sincere, Any Dumb Animal Proves a Comfort
Any Dumb Animal, AE Hines’ debut collection of poetry, recounts a lifetime of intimate experiences: a traumatic childhood, divorce, parenting, and love found later in life, in addition to relating to moments of great historical significance on a personal level. The volume opens like a shot, the first poem, “Phone Call,” detailing both his coming out and his struggles with an unfaithful partner, jarring the heart with an immediate plea for understanding.
Poem by poem, Hines reveals his tender and often painful memories, inviting the reader to feel alongside him—outrage, regret, love. He crafts arresting images and manages to carve beauty out of suffering and agony, rendering the critical moments in his life, both big and small, with the same attention to detail. Taking the smallest of ideas, like the difficulty in dividing a comingled drawer of patterned socks, as in “Gay Divorce,” where he uses that to represent the entirety of losing a marriage, decades’ worth of partnership. There are echoes of his earlier memories in the later poems, repetitive motions, like the juxtaposition of his helpless mother “running back and forth along the pier” in “How We Learn” in the same way the author “…couldn’t stop myself from running / down the long white ward / out into the night” as he leaves his mother in “The Commitment.” This poem repeats history, too, duplicating the way his mother could not save him all those years ago, detailed in “How We Learn.” Hines shows an understanding that comes with time and pain in these lines:
“How could she forgive
any more than I
could forgive myself
for driving away in the darkness,
to board a plane, to put
thirty years and three thousand miles
for saving the one person
I could possibly save?”
Despite (or because of) the emotional vulnerability in many of the poems, the book exudes homeyness. The author is well-grounded in his subject matter and that plays out clearly in the text—you can’t help but be enveloped by his life, like a warm comforter. The poems in Any Dumb
Animal have a poised quality to them, a slow and steady weight. The collection feels like a friend you can sit in silence with for as long as you need to gather yourself. This effect is enhanced by the language choices; Hines is sparing but not sparse. His poems delight in their physicality, like in “Grace,” which describes both “the crisp patter of rain” and “the harpoon of a needle into your leg.”
Hines crafts arresting images and manages to carve beauty out of suffering and agony, rendering the critical moments in his life, both big and small, with the same attention to detail.
Though the poet unspools the length of his life in Any Dumb Animal, he also takes care to touch on the intersections where that life met the world at large. “What I Learned” details the effects of COVID-19 and Hines’ own decisions about intubation, while in “This Morning After the Riots,” he weaves together the threads of his Southern upbringing with his current reality, living in Portland during the George Floyd protests of summer 2020. Hines also relates to the movements of the present in “Me Too.” The author doesn’t restrict himself to current events of historical significance, though; in “Bohemian Rhapsody, 1991,” he allows the reader a glimpse into his experience of the HIV and AIDS tragedy, writing about “…all of us burning up / together in that back alley bar.”
An earthy and tender collection of poetry, Any Dumb Animal tells the story of a man redeemed by love. This book exemplifies the much-beloved quote “If you’re going through hell, keep going,” and the poems feel like a catharsis for Hines, both an exorcism and an exaltation. This is not a subtle collection. There is little in the way of nuance to tease out. Hines writes plainly and has a clear voice that rings with sincerity.
Susanne Salehi is a queer writer and Memphis expat currently residing in Atlanta with her wife and two cats. Her labels are INFP, Taurus, and 4w5, and she spends her free time hiking and doing jigsaw puzzles. She works in advancement and daydreams about rugby and writing retreats. You can follow her Instagram @bookishcreature if you need more pictures of cats and books in your life.