This week’s poetry pick is Tim Sherry’s One of Seven Billion, from MoonPath Press. These poems are personal–meditations, reflections, and investigations of a life lived–and the life experiences we on this planet share.

Many are nostalgic, setting the reader clearly in a specific time or place, evoking the past with its joys and idiosyncrasies. Many question, delve into the gray area of everything we know that we don’t know. Many celebrate family and long love, long marriage.

Spoken without artifice, these poems are like talking with a good friend who says, “Remember when…” or “What about this? Let’s take a look.” Tim Sherry takes the reader on a journey through living, with time to pause, take stock, and appreciate.

For a sample, read  “The Bird Behind Jesus.”

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With your manuscript?

I first wrote this post on June 3, ready to come home from work and dive into another round of revision. But between the car and the house, I received a phone call–the manuscript had been selected as a finalist. Woo-HOO! Someone liked it, so I set aside that revisiting. This week, I got the news: Didn’t win. So, ready with a fresh printout (so many trees, but I read better, more critically on paper), I’m back to this post:

It’s happened again. I’ve decided I need to rewrite my manuscript. I’ve been working on these poems for three and a half years. No, that doesn’t sound like such a long time–but by the end of two years, I thought I had a solid chapbook-length manuscript. A few months later, I thought I’d crafted it into a full-length manuscript. I sent it out to contests, and I moved on. New poems, new projects beckoned (after the initial floundering, the anxiety of not having a focus).

Two or three times since then I’ve reworked the manuscript, most recently right around AWP. (Imagine being asked whether you have a manuscript ready and saying, “No, I’m hating my manuscript right now.”)

This week, I’ve been reading Mark Doty’s The Art of Description. It’s been wonderful, and it’s also made me feel like a hack. It’s made me feel I need a poetry therapist (and instead, here I am online). It’s made me feel like I need to go back and revisit every poem in the manuscript again, maybe take another look at the 22 poems I’ve already pulled out of the manuscript. And it should be exhilarating, but instead it feels daunting.

How do you get back into a project? Or at what point do you let it go?

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In Stubble Field, published by Silverfish Review Press, Paul Hunter takes a good hard look at good hard work, and the lives of people working the land. These poems are filled with reminiscence, with humor and empathy–and their strong rhythm and lack of punctuation enhance their musing quality. Yet the images are concrete and tenacious–you are there, and you won’t forget.

Reading the poems, I thought of Donald Hall’s Life Work and Wendell Berry’s Fidelity. All three a good way to get another look at our part of the world and the part we might play in it.

Here is one of my favorite poems from the collection:

The Touch

Though most worked off to themselves
pritnear all the folks studied
some trick of their own to fall back on

got known for doing far and wide
what looked natural as falling off a log
like one old boy could tie a grain sack knot

quick as a cat at spilt milk
one could shuck a dried corn ear
spill a gold twist in his hat

like wringing a young chicken’s neck
some could stir fire in a woodstove
boil coffee up a couple seconds flat

and talk of secret recipes who’d dare
bring cornbread to the potluck
if Rosalie felt up to baking hers

everyone could sharpen axes knives
though stropping razors to a fare-thee-well
came like pie to the storekeep

some could worry through a certain tune
on the squeeze box or gitfiddle
that most never quite got the hang of

a few could do sums in their head
some cooking never measured out a thing
seemed like what they threw together

would always land about perfect
some ventured nothing but a grin
a knack for the kind word when needed

but none expected dinner to appear
without their lifting a finger
or a song to start up on its own

that not a soul could remember
and canning snap beans rolling pie crust out
shingling a hip roof never leak a drop

should anybody run into a hitch
they’d wrack their brains to recollect
who heareabouts could do what needed done

go ask for help admit they had the touch
and sure would be applauded going at
what no one else could figure out a lick

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Where can you find science fiction, Charlton Heston, David Bowie, and elegies for a father?

As well as at least one villanelle and a ghazal?

Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars from Graywolf Press. Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize, this volume risks and shimmers. It slows down to the most tender moments. It veers into deep space and the spaces we keep between each other.

Often, I felt out of breath. Especially after reading “The Speed of Belief,” turning the page, and realizing that it was just the first section. So much more to come. I was standing under the trees waiting for my order from the food truck and I had to stop, put the book away until I had the kind of sustained energy and attention that poem demanded and deserved. It was worth the wait.

I delighted in finding a poem called “It & Co.” in the first section and a poem called “Us & Co.” at the end.

I enjoy long poems, especially long poems in sections, and I loved the way these diverged and stayed compressed, linked, at the same time: “Don’t You Wonder, Sometimes,” “Life on Mars,” “No-Fly Zone,” the aforementioned “The Speed of Belief,” the tragic “They May Love All that He Has Chosen and Hate All that He Has Rejected,” and “My God, It’s Full of Stars.”

I deeply appreciated the craft and the heart of this book.

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Years ago I read the poem “Upon Witnessing My Mother Impossibly Blossom Above My Father’s Deathbed” and was smitten with it. Am smitten with it. The play of proverbs and homonyms against the heartbreaking image of the speaker’s parents, as he looks on from the side. I knew that it was by Kevin Stein, and finally I looked it up and learned that it was included in his collection American Ghost Roses. I’ll admit, I was a little nervous. What would the rest of the poems in the book be like? How could they possibly live up to that poem?

With honesty, with restraint, with humor, and with music, the balance of empathy and observation at the intersection of image and story.

After reading this book, I wondered how I could do these poems justice here, or come close.

I want to tell you about the Drano poems, “Adolescent Hemlock” and “In the House of Being.” I want to tell you about “An American Tale of Sex and Death” and “Valentine’s Day Boxing at the Madison County Jail”–each of which look at race from the perspective of white privilege and being at the wrong place at the wrong time (on many levels, in many ways). And so many more–on the lighter side: “Etiquette and Epiphany in the Post-Workshop Men’s Room” and “To Bob Marley’s Toe.” Plus “Kandinsky on Concerning the Spiritual in Art” and “Thinking of Kandinsky While Shaving My Father.”

In this book, Stein spans youth and age, coming of age and dying–all of it human.


P.S. My apology for the delayed posting. I was out of town. This will happen again throughout the summer.

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