As is not unusual for The Missouri Review, there are three poets featured, each with multiple poems, and the series of poems each represent a theme or topic. The first poet, Bill Glose, explores military life. In “Theories of Flight and Forbearance,” he starts “In the rumbling gloom of a Starlifter’s belly, / they sit shoulder to shoulder…” The paratroopers here are compared to the hoplites at Thermopylae, and despite the modern situation, “wedged tight / as an M4s detent pin, bodies interlock…” we get a shared sense of history between the fighters of different eras. Waiting for battle, “they empty minds like a guru.” A powerful poem.
His second poem, “Among the Crenellations,” begins with the epigraph, “Every day, 22 veterans take their own lives,” quoting Moni Basu. “Like wolves in packs of four and five, they lope…” gives us the image of soldiers on a training run. But this run ends in a different place than we expect. “They stretch beside the flush stone slabs of a pet cemetery.” This jolts to life a resonance between veterans and loyal dogs. The end of the poem refers back to that epigraph, and so we start reading the poem again. And again. Such blunt poems, taut with import.
Jessica Jacobs gives us the next set of poems, starting with “When Your Surgeon Brought Snapshots to the Waiting Room,” which seems to work hard to surprise us at each turn. “People say eyes are the windows…but…it’s actually a pithy incision / into the navel.” But these are not surprises for their own sake. The poems go someplace, using an extended metaphor. “This was not the garden / you’d abandoned in Kentucky…” There is a back-and-forth between the body as real thing, and an attempt to explain a confusing reality. “I wanted to report / that inside you I’d seen a vision…” The body as a holy place, then a shabby neighborhood. Her poems, as so often happens, are an attempt to describe the indescribable. Her poem, “In the Days between Detection and Diagnosis,” says, “it’s / easier to sketch the space around a tree / than the tree itself.” Again we have the body, again the hint of something terrible gone wrong. Poems very much worth sitting with, absorbing slowly.
The last poet, Morri Creech, gives us more austere poems that follow a tight pattern, thirteen-line poems of thirteen syllables, each on the subject of a still life painting. These are elegant and complex works, of heightened tone, and they come at their themes only slowly, indirectly. The title is repeated as the first line of each poem. So “The tragic undertones that mar our best achievements” gives us the theme of the first poem. “The footsteps of the past fade down the long hallway,” it says. Each poem has a turn, this one moving from the more general and conclusive in the first few lines, to the more specific in the middle. “The pears at rest in their dish…by the sugar bowl.” Then we draw back again, for perhaps a deeper understanding: “Time, in passing, has given / Them…timelessness.” A nice flavor, here. There is a tension between each still life, as described, and a hunger for movement. “When you think of the past, what comes to mind is the dead / Peacock you once saw hanging…” one poem begins. “You were the girl…who…thought…nothing has ever looked so still.” But there is movement that cannot be described by paint alone. “your father held the knife…whistling while the tendons snapped.” The poet works this tension between the frozen moment and the implied movement very well. And not always a physical movement, either: “you knew…you would keep this memory.” I like these poems, and more on each rereading.
Peace in poetry,
P M F Johnson
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