Chappaquiddick summer resident Don McLagan has published his first collection of poetry, titled “Tug at the Knot.” One of the color images in the book’s four-page photo portfolio shows a puppy tugging on a rope. It’s titled “Curiosity /tugs at the knot /one strand at a time,” and provides the author with his title.
The collection is divided into four sections, each with a separate theme. In all four the poet wields rhymes with a light, often humorous touch. “Why I Sail a 100-Year-Old Boat” celebrates his old-fashioned vessel with knowledgeable lines like “With carbon-fiber’s proven use /why still a mast of Sitka spruce?” The first, Vineyard-related section begins with “Ferry to Chappaquiddick.” The poem celebrates the famous three-car On Time ferries that bring passengers back and forth in three minutes each way from the smaller island. Other poems in this section reference Mytoi gardens, a message-carrying bottle, and the Bass Derby. Mr. McLagan is a serious fisherman — I can’t help wondering if the book’s title makes a subtle nod to that sport — as a number of the poems illustrate. In “Fishing the Outer Harbor,” the author details the experience of hooking a fish and compares it to “a poet with a new verse.”
In the second section of “Tug at the Knot,” the poet gets social and political. “PF-9” describes Mr. McLagan’s handgun, at the ready when he patrols his neighborhood, and it explains “there are still burglaries /in our community.” In “Blinders” he talks about his son’s arrests and how an unarmed black teen was killed by a white cop. It is a poem that reverberates with the nation’s current concerns. Less grim is “Flying,” a rhymed complaint about how that form of travel has deteriorated. “They called you Jackhammer, /Whiz, IBM Machine on Legs” unflatteringly describes the late Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense under J.F.K., and a frequent Vineyard summer visitor. Mr. McLagan, who has founded five tech companies, borrows from children’s author Eric Carle for “The Very Hungry Bank” to comment on bank acquisitions.
All manner of family issues come up in Section III. “In the Basement” looks at his childhood memories of a scary place, while “Letter from His Other Dad” and “Adopted” explore the poet and his wife Barbara’s feelings as adoptive parents. Skateboarding, tattoos, their son’s parenthood, and the poet’s 3-year-old grandson offer subjects to explore as well.
The final section in “Tug at the Knot” offers a medley of topics. Particularly charming is “Around the Block,” his affectionate description of neighbors, which concludes, “then home is up the hill, we can catch our breath, give our heart room, stand and look while the quiet works …” Mr. McLagan’s sports affinities come up in “Statistician,” about his experience as a youthful baseball wannabe. Three separate poems labeled “Red Sox Hat,” each subtitled with a different date, examine his waxing and waning loyalty to the Boston team. Mr. McLagan is generously donating the proceeds from “Tug at the Knot” to Vineyard House, which provides a safe, supportive place for people in early sobriety.