Sean Thomas Dougherty was raised in an interracial family with an African-American step-father, and a mother whose grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Budapest and the Ukraine. Issues of identity and the complexities of history are central in his work. In Broken Hallelujahs, Dougherty uses a variety of experimental and traditional forms including canzone, prose poem, metered, and elliptical poems. These aesthetic devices structure his themes of personal and historical fissure and the reconnection of such fissures. American and African-American musical poems push against a narrative describing Dougherty's journey to Budapest to walk the streets of his great grandmother. As his multiple ancestries are interwoven across time and space, Dougherty's family, the power of memory, and the need to not forget in the face of historical atrocity, provide a safe passageway, to "Sing across time and space the names of our living, and our dead."
PRAISE FOR BROKEN HALLELUJAHS
"The poems of Sean Thomas Dougherty are full of intelligence and energy, myth and music, moving in surreal, jagged streams. There is a remarkable range of references here, from Edith Piaf to Biggie Smalls, from Jackson Pollock to Killer Kowalski. Above all, however, there is empathy, that essential element of poetry and humanity, for a dying grandfather, for the insomniacs of the city, for all the forgotten histories the poet cannot forget. To him I say: Keep singing."
"Sean Thomas Dougherty writes urgent and voracious poetry. His enthusiasms are infectious. Fortunately, veracity is constant too—in melodic images, some of which shadow each other throughout the poems, and in untypical tributes to family icons and icons of influence. Small worlds become major too, sometimes in just a stroke: 'The insomnia of the doll’s open eyes, out in the alleyway’s trash.' Or when ‘A girl sharpens a blade against a curb.’ Broken Hallelujahs is an exciting and important book of poetry."
The Sky Inside
My grandfather's hand opens and there is a sky inside. The sky is blue above the hay fields of Western Hungary. It is the Uzhgorod sky. Inside the field of my grandfather's palm is a tiny hay cart, pulled by a slow paced mare, with white tipped tail, a woman with a red babushka gathering (some indigenous flower) on a far hillside. A (bird) flies over my grandfather's wind tossed hair—he is laughing at a joke in a language I do not understand, a tiny laughter like the wheeze of a sick child, there in his breathing, what is that roughness—then the sandpaper against my ears, the cough that pulls back the walls to this room. This room. The open curtains and the day gray with the threat of rain. My grandfather's nostrils hooked up to the oxygen tank. He opens his mouth to breathe like a carp, gasping. I want to close my eyes but I reach for his arm. His hand flexes slightly, closes, then opens again, like a lung. Like a tiny accordion. Adjusting the morphine. The anesthetic music.
© BOA Editions, Ltd. 2007