Reviewed by D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador (1974–76), Costa Rica (1976–77)
The author was a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in the Sultanate of Oman from 1975 to 1978. He taught English in the remote fishing village of Bukha located in a then-restricted military zone at the mouth of the Persian Gulf for two years. During his third year, he worked in Salalah, the capital of Oman’s southern district, splitting his time between teaching English and serving as assistant to that region’s Chief English Inspector.
This book of poems is based on Huband’s time in Bukha. The poems are compact gems of sly humor and universal humanity with an underpinning wisdom.
An alternate title for the book might be The Education of Earl Huband. Like myself and many other PCVs, his focus is on what he is learning as an outsider experiencing a new culture. I am no expert on poetry, but I very much admire the poet’s ability to go beyond telling the tale and really evoke the emotions felt during the experience, as in “The Journey from the Interior”:
. . . this bumblebee of planes,
This flying buzzsaw . . .
As a former PCV myself, I find it easy to identify with Mr. Huband as he describes in various ways his situation of being a novice in the language and culture. Those readers who have never experienced another culture or foreign language can learn from these poems much about the outsider’s perspective.
Mr. Huband has written about his poetry:
I started writing these poems mainly to try to make sense of my experience. But the subject matter seems even more relevant to today’s world than it did back then. There appears to me to be such a strong wave of xenophobia in the United States at this time that I worry that many of my fellow Americans will fall into the trap of viewing the Arab world as a monolithic enemy, similar to the way communism was viewed during the height of the Cold War. Yes, we have enemies in that part of the world, and yes there are terrorists willing to kill themselves in order to kill others; but, in responding to the latter, we need to take care not to alienate what I firmly believe are the vast, vast majority of decent, peace-loving folks in that part of the world who just want to have a better life for themselves and their children and thus are willing to live and let live. So, in my Peace Corps poems, I have tried to present most of the Arabs that I met as the ordinary people that I found them to be, really not different at heart from you and me.
The Innocence of Education was winner of Longleaf Press at Methodist University’s 2018 Chapbook Contest.
During Earl’s third year, he worked in Salalah, the capital of Oman’s southern district, splitting his time between teaching English and serving as assistant to that region’s Chief English Inspector. This second book of poems is also based on his Peace Corps experiences.
Huband dedicates this book:
“To all people worldwide who have worked
to promote cross-cultural understanding.”
Huband describes a wide variety of experiences with honesty and grace. The language of his poems is authentic, and filled with rich, clear detail. The reader encounters people, food, customs, practices and lifestyles, witnessed through the poet’s accepting eye. The book teaches us not only about another culture, but also about ourselves as outsiders experiencing that culture.
Many of the poems in this collection involve other expatriates instead of or in addition to Huband himself. Many times the situation described is not resolved, as it might be in a longer prose version. But that is the prerogative of the poet, to leave us blank spaces to be filled in based on our own experiences, or leave us feeling frustration similar to that felt by the author at the time, sharing that feeling with the reader.
In the Coral Reef of the Market was a finalist in the 2019 Cathy Smith Bowers Chapbook Contest
The poems in these two books are well written and entertaining. I encourage you to read them multiple times as I have. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
Reviewer D.W. Jefferson was a Peace Corps agriculture volunteer in El Salvador (1974–76) and Costa Rica (1976–77). A blog about his Peace Corps years is at dwjefferson.blogspot.com He is currently retired from a career in computer software engineering.