Shining Rock Poetry Anthology

Summer 2019 Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEWS of Works by Jesse Graves, William Wright,
Michael Chitwood, Elaine Terranova, Amy Meng, Heather Thomas, & Sara Pirkle Hughes.

Jesse Graves and William Wright, Specter Mountain
Mercer University Press, 2018. 67 pp.
Review by Alice Allen

      On first reading this collection, a collaboration between Jesse Graves and William Wright, I kept returning to the question of their collaborative process.  The book is opaque, intentionally I think, on which poet wrote which poem or whether poems were written together, edited back and forth between the poets.    At first, I wanted to know the mechanics behind this project: did they hunker down in a forest cabin, brainstorm their subject matter, then set to writing the book, or did they bring the book together from individual work already in progress?
      But after further readings, I didn't need or want to know.  This collection stands strong by itself.  While the poets' quite different voices are at times discernable, the overall effect is of a unified whole, a collaboration that permits difference of poetic pace, tone and register but which holds together with common themes.
      This book reveals an impressive, textured evocation of landscape and place through time, from the birth of the titular mountain and its emerging geology, its surrounding rivers and meadows, fields and forests, to the creeping progress of its present-day contamination.  It is a landscape inhabited by ancestral ghosts, grandfathers, field workers, birds and salamanders and haunted by memory and our connection with the past.  These themes are expressed through many different modes and means: hymn, lament, monologue, song, spell.
      I say these are poems about 'landscape' and 'place' and the distinction is important.  There are poems about landscape which stand back and declare their subject boldly.  These poems are often dense with ornate language and imagery, as in Topography:

Out of the dusk that blooms
daily, out of the shadows that graft
mountain laurel and apple ridges

to the earth, sculpted by worms, owls,

There is an intensity in the tightly packed, fast flowing description of many of these poems, which can be dramatically striking.  In Drought's End:

Farms wilted and cracked, their families gone husk and spindle,
all throats without slake.  Then storms bloomed

and bombed the valleys

      With its layers of alliteration and internal rhyme this poem explodes with sound.  Likewise, in Steep Side Creek, the lines crunch with rhyme and half-rhyme:

Winters were colder, and come October
leaves flared, withered
quick, then bled down to dither

on the creek bottom's flow, slower, the iced-over
water sluggish, stilled. Under
the gleaning surface time sundered

      Some might find the layered richness of rhyme and language in these poems too intense, too extraordinary, but within the collection they really work, set beside poems that are quieter and slower paced.  These quieter poems are more concerned with place than landscape and are rooted in a personal, close-up connection with the land -- a person walking through a yellow field, or through the woods looking for a dilapidated cabin from his past, characters seeking the presence of their ancestors, their sense of self.  
      This duality of vision, this sense of the collection working both in close-up and panning out to achieve a detached panoramic view is impressive, filmic, providing the sense as we move through the collection of a dynamic progression through a vast sweep of time. 
      Many of the quieter 'place' poems delicately probe our connection with the past, with memory and family myth.   There is a closeness with these presences from the past, a sense of shared history, of a life lived parallel to those who came before, as in the poem Ancestors:

Our father cut hay in the fields closest
to the lake that now covers their first homes,
flattest bottomland lost to flood,

while we sat at the meadow-edge
watching the tractor make its tight turns
as the ancestors must have done with mules.

      But this connectedness with the past is open and exploratory, not sealed off with simplified conclusions about time passing.  There is a clear bond with those who came before in Ancestors, but also a sense of threat and unease.  The poem ends with the disturbing notion of the elders' long reach:

The constricting fear they passed down
was the promise to reveal the future.
We knew of the west-flowing spring

they said foretold the death of a child,
would show the coffin we would be
buried in, signal the darkness.

      While the old stories are seen as endlessly fascinating and compelling, the process of navigating family memory and family myth is closely scrutinized.  The inherited past never offers up sentimental conclusions but instead is a source of fascination and unease.

      In October Forest Inversion, for example, the forest has become a kind of repository of the speaker's ancestral history, a boggy archive of leaves and earthy debris that can be excavated and dug over:

The footnotes of this forest tell a story,
and the story of our fathers, their bitter elements,
their soft immersions ...
We dig through the leaves for our own name,
burrow into the subsoil to find proof
that we lived, frail and descending as fathers.

      Our relation to the past in these poems is constantly shifting, being reinterpreted and any sense that our own identity can be composed by creating narratives from the past, is both accepted and dismantled.  And so in the poem Spell, an epiphany of belonging is reached:

It comes to me in fragments, a magnificent dark
and a final sense I belong

to wild onion and sassafras and other divinations
of autumn stems

.....and my right hand

trembles cold as though it is submerged
in the old wild Shannon

of my long-dead kin....

There is an atmosphere of intoxication in the joy that comes from belonging and identifying with the past and with a particular place but this is also seen as impermanent, fragile, a spell that will be broken when morning comes:

for this magic comes from some history
twisting up bright and green


and I wish for it to raise my sleep
into the glory of a deep rain

all night, until I wake and bear again
morning's broken clarity.

      Notions of disruption and inversion run through the collection even in the idea of the mountain itself, which is both a constant focus but also represents the unknowable, the problematic.  The mountain is where people gather at times end, it is a mausoleum, it is on fire or turned on its end, as in Salt which imagines the mountain 'underwater, submerged past the tree line' with its uneasy conclusion, 'The earth upside down, inverted time, now.' 
      This notion of destabilization comes to a crescendo in the final short section of the book, the epilogue.  There is a real sense of a change in tone, the mountain and surrounding landscape is contaminated with violence and pollution.  The mood is one of loss and abandonment, of things being cut loose.  In Mother, memory has become 'seasonless'.  In All Kin we sink into the eventual 'blindness of all past'. 
      Our bond with nature is under threat, broken and so too is our hope of making any meaningful connection with the past.   In so many of the earlier poems, nature and landscape serve to decipher the complexities of memory and to provide a means of speaking about absence and loss. When the landscape itself is under threat and at risk of being part of that loss, the implication is far reaching. 

Alice Allen grew up in Jersey in the Channel Islands and lives in the UK.   She has an MPhil in Creative Writing from the University of South Wales and a degree in English from Cambridge University. She has recently received a grant from ArtHouse Jersey to complete a collection of poems set in Jersey during the German occupation of the Channel Islands in the second world war.

Michael Chitwood, Search & Rescue
Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2018. 82 pp.
Review by Lisa Grunberger and Robert Margolis

"all of what had been but was not now"

a review of Michael Chitwood's Search & Rescue
Lisa Grunberger and Robert Margolis

The superiority of the poem's report
always consisted in the power
to see through the veil.

     Ed Dorn, "Beware the Plural of Usual"1

      For poet and essayist Michael Chitwood too, there are, what Primo Levi named, "the drowned and the saved".2 Memory drowned and saved; language drowned and saved.  That which is drowned in or by memory; that which is saved by memory.  That which is drowned in or by language; that which is saved by language.  The title of Chitwood's new collection of poems, Search & Rescue, tells us the intention and purpose at work in its poetry.  In the title poem, Chitwood writes:

When the power company execs explained
what they would be paid for the land
to be under water then left
in a black Lincoln Continental
his father said:
"I reckon there's nothing to be done about it,
just have to live beside it.
All the old thinking will be underneath."
Even his way in words
would be drowned

      This 'minor', local Flood, Chitwood is telling us, continues to inundate the land, to rise and subside in the local people's interior lives; its survivors--things, bits of "the old thinking", of a "way with words," the memories that eddy and pool in people's minds or speech, are still inhabited with a life from "underneath".  For Chitwood, it requires a 'descent', repeated immersions in this underworld and, to paraphrase Charles Olson, that he, the poet, be too an archaeologist of memory.  Because of the poet's formidable powers of attention and observation, the 'gates', the places of entry and of reemergence, are immediate, "whispering" everywhere. As the poet reveals to us in this section from the title poem:

After the first frost
he found a hornet's nest
latched to a low limb
which means a mild winter

He brought it in and spent hours
peeling off the gray whispering layers.

It was a kind of translation
unweaving the work
of so many mouths.

At the core of the nest
was the comb
with its tiny pharaohs entombed.

What to do now
with this pile of paper,
too delicate to accept
even the slightest mark?
The ancient blank text
kept mum.  

      Suggestions of the Odyssey and the Hebrew Bible found in a hornet's nest, and of what is epic in (what some perceive as) the ordinary.   The mythic and the mundane communicate through each other, and the poet, as Chitwood shows us, is their intermediary.

      Chitwood 'translates' from what he has seen and experienced in this intermediate realm: in which there is, as he writes, "all of what had been but was not now", what is lost---except maybe to memory, of "the old thinking," and the voices of the living and the dead, their "way in words".  From a lifetime of listening to them, these ways and voices have inhabited him. He invites them to do so; he makes of himself their habitat.   In many of the poems in Search & Rescue, it is not the poet's own lyric "I" that we hear, but rather these other voices that tell of themselves.  Or rather, it is not these voices speaking of themselves; it is Chitwood 'translating' them, unweaving in himself those memories which "are the work of so many mouths". 
      In "The Writer's Profession," Elias Canetti states that a poet is adequate to his vocation when he is "the keeper of metamorphosis".3 The poet's ability to "keep practicing the gift of metamorphosis," writes Canetti, enables him "to keep the accesses between people open.  He should be able to become anybody and everybody, even the smallest, the most naïve, the most powerless person.  His desire for experiencing others from the inside should never be determined by the goals of which our normal, virtually official life has to be passion in itself, the passion of metamorphosis."4 It requires, Canetti goes on to state, "an ever open ear," though in itself this is not enough. Something more and else is needed, to get---to use Chitwood's own word precisely, "underneath," to that which, as Canetti says, "would make it possible to feel what a man is behind his words."5
      Reading the poems in Search & Rescue---for example "Pie", "First Grade", "With the Body", "A Childhood", "The Man on Wabash", "Histories", "It Is What It Is", one may experience the effects of Chitwood's practice of metamorphosis. He has felt what is behind his characters' words; he hears the language of each as a signature of their person, even (as Canetti suggests) of their being. Chitwood hears, what he already has called, their "way in words" (emphasis mine).  There is a music, Chitwood has said in an interview, that he hears in the everyday language of his childhood, of the people with whom he grew up, which is "more connected to the landscape, the natural world, [such] that even in their regular conversation, they were more metaphorical, more attuned to images."  The rural people of his childhood were "more attentive to what something looked like, what it smelled like."  To Chitwood, this itself is "poetic language."6
      Many people from Chitwood's childhood, it seems, had a poetry of his or her own. Chitwood interiorized these multiple everyday poetries, as a poet must do if he desires to experience "others from the inside," and especially those, as Canetti also reminds us, who are the least noticed. One can detect a correspondence between Chitwood's childhood experience of this "poetic language"--its effects on his sensibilities and imagination, on his cultivating an awareness of what is the writer's profession, and his "desire for experiencing others from the inside."  It may be that this "poetic language" itself is what first aroused, and continues to arouse, this desire in Chitwood.
      The poems in Search & Rescue indicate that, in his childhood, this "poetic language" did awaken in him a conscience for words.  With this conscience came, and still comes, inhabitation by characters from whom he cannot part or separate himself. That is, the poet is compelled by these characters who have come to reside in him; they are Mnemosyne herself in as many guises as the poet's language, imagination and invention will permit. For Chitwood---as Canetti recognized is true about every writer's characters, his characters "react out of him, as though he consisted of them. They are his majority, articulated and conscious, they are--since they live in him--his resistance to death."7
      The realm of death, yes, is between Chitwood and all that is "underneath." He enters this realm prepared to bestow a living language on that which does not or cannot speak for itself. His poems are among his acts of relentless, militant resistance, so that memory--"like water / finding the lowest places / the crazy-turn route, / the trickle path"-- may speak and return what is "underneath" to the living.

1  Ed Dorn, Hello, La Jolla, Berkeley: Wingbow Press, 1978, p. 24.
2 See Primo Levi, The drowned and the saved, New York: Summit Books, 1988.
3 Elias Canetti, The Conscience of Words, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1979, p. 240 and passim.
4 Canetti, p. 242.
5 Canetti, p. 242.
6 Michael Chitwood: A Nanthala Interview (Accessed 2/15/2019).
7 Canetti, p. 244.

Lisa Grunberger, Temple University Professor and playwright, is also an award-winning poet whose work has appeared in The New York Times and in numerous literary publications, such as Mudfish, Hanging Loose Press, Crab Orchard Review and Krytyka Literacka. She is the author of three books: Yiddish Yoga: Ruthie's Adventures in Love, Loss and the Lotus Position, Born Knowing, and I am dirty.   

Robert Margolis is an independent scholar of Jewish Studies, a literary translator and a freelance editor.  He resides in Philadelphia, PA with his family.

Elaine Terranova, Perdido
Boston: Off the Grid Press, Grid Books, 2018. 79 pp.
Review by Allison Brown

      Elaine Terranova's Perdido begins with three distinct but interrelated definitions of the titular term.  The first is a forthright definition of the Spanish perdido, the second is a description of a jazz piece of the same name, and the third is a positing of a parable about recovering that which we have lost.  The inclusion of these three epigraphs creates a layered and multidimensional foundation for Terranova's collection even before we become acquainted with the collection's poems themselves.  Concordantly, the poems themselves are divided into one inaugural poem (a cento knitted from the yarns of other works) followed by three longer sections comprised of multiple poems.  In this way, Elaine Terranova's Perdido is more than an ordinary collection of poetry; it is a collection of moving parts, which together create a whole that is as cohesive as it is conflicting, and as moving as it is mythologizing.
      The first of the three definitions that precede the collections' poems is a definition of the term "perdido" quoted from The University of Chicago Spanish-English/English-Spanish Dictionary. The quoted definition explains that the term "perdido" means "lost, strayed, mislaid, ruined" (5).  To title an English-language collection with a Spanish-language word is to invite dual readings.  This title simultaneously situates the collection within a linguistic borderland that at once separates and connects the two sides of this dialectal threshold.  This linguistic limbo is even more pronounced not just by the fact that the word is Spanish, but specifically by the multiple meanings of the word itself.  "Perdido" is a concept that is not easily translated into English.  In English we can lose something (or someone), we can misplace an item, and we can be bereft in the face of loss and absence.  Yet the notion of being both lost and ruined has no direct correlation in English.  Something may be misplaced or may fade into the past, but if it has done so, then English speakers have no way of truly knowing if that which is "mislaid" is truly ruined in and of itself, or if it is simply gone from our own, individual possession and physical plane.  In this way, loss and absence in English are like an emotionally an ontologically charged version of Schrödinger's cat; we can never truly know the condition of that which is out of our powers of observation.  In English, loss connotes something which was once in our lives and which is no longer in our lives.  Yet in Spanish, "perdido" becomes something which is not only gone from our lives, but which is also gone from existence, that which is dismantled in addition to being merely dismissed.   Because the term "perdido" conveys a deeper sense of absence, grief, and destruction than its closest English-language relative, its inclusion as the title of Elaine Terranova's collection invites, and indeed requires readers to hold two ideas in their minds as they read.  Readers must think not only of two languages, but also of two styles of loss: one which there is a cessation of presence, and another which there is a cessation of existence itself.  
      This duality is present throughout Terranova's collection.  In addition to the three different incarnations of the word "perdido" that open the book, there are four similarly multifaceted sections within the collection itself.  The first section, titled "Wedding Cento" is comprised of only one poem that is, as the title suggests, a cento that borrows lines from a multitude of other works in order to stitch itself into being.  "Wedding Cento" is, in some ways, an embodiment of its subject matter; weddings, marriages, romantic relationships, are simultaneously the stuff of newness and timelessness; each marriage unique unto itself, yet is always predicated on partnership rituals embedded in our collective human psyche and dating from time immemorial.  "Wedding Cento" lives this dual existence between unique and commonplace by using its borrowed lines to mirror the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of marriage.  "Marriage," the poem tells us, "is in many ways/a simplification of life./ Here all seeking is over" (13).   Yet seeking must also be an integral part of any marriage; as the poem also tells us, "Loving is a journey with water and stars" (13).  In marriage we must cease seeking, yet in loving we must seek our own journeys among the elements of our own lives. 
      This emphasis on the seemingly conflicting nature of marriage relates not only to the dictionary's denotation of "perdido," but also to the collection's second definition of the term: "Perdido" is a jazz composition that allows "multiple instrumental solos and variations on the basic theme" (5).  Terranova herself plays "variations on the basic theme" of loss and ruin in the three sections of her collection.  The three sections--titles "The Garden," "History," and "Exchanges" explore the various expressions and incarnations of loss, ranging from the experience of losing to the experience of being lost, and from the experience of putting aside to the experience of being that which is put aside.  These three sections together create a mythology of loss that demonstrates both agency in the act of refusing a situation, and the loss of agency that comes from being refused, rejected, or (as The University of Chicago Spanish-English/English-Spanish Dictionary states) "ruined."  "The Garden" is full of titles with beautiful images recalling the gentlest inhabitants of the natural world; poems with titles like "Hummingbird" and "Shadow" nestle next to harder, more jagged titles such as "Left Fork" and "The Shattered House." "Palm Beach" mixes the realms of the natural world with the artificial habitats built by human hands by infusing this mix into the very letter components of the word choices.  As "Palm Beach" draws to a close, hardened and sharpened consonants give way to a soft, languid procession of plural s-sounds: "I stood alone on a sidewalk/ as noon struck/ and had to cross/ to a safe shadow of roofs" (18).  Thus, even in the presence of skillful wordsmithing, two thoughts and two worlds exist simultaneously within one poem, and even within one strophe.  These hard and soft letter sounds form linguistic and aural opposites, which prepare the reader for the existential opposites presented in the poem's final image: "while all along, moist warmth/ like human breath/ licked at the v's of my fingers" (18). 
      The second section of Perdido is titled "History" and, like a history textbook, is bristling with images, sights, smells, places, and spaces from Terranovas's personal past and from the personal histories of other objects and people.  She explores her own history charmingly in the playful "I Remember What a Drone Once Was."  While the word "drone" now conjures images of a remote warfare and a correspondingly terrifying brave new world, Terranova explains simply what a drone once was: "it was Allen Ginsberg,/ thumbing the key of his harmonium/ to invoke Wm. Blake" (31).  The speaker's memories of seeing (and of course,  hearing) Ginsberg are a remembered as a pivotal moment in her young life, yet this moment of individual importance is imbued with universal spiritual significance by the close of the poem, when the speaker reminds us that Ginsberg's characteristically bombastic 'drone' continued, "until it was no longer loud/ until I could pull my hands away from my ears/ and it became an om/ continuing tone of the universe" (32). 
      This concept of the universe's chanted mantra appears most strongly in the final section of the collection. The final section, titled "Exchanges" also recalls most strongly the third of the three epigraphs that begin the collection.  This epigraph does not mention the term 'perdido' itself, but rather explores the concept of reacquaintance with, and reclamation of, the losses of our lives.  As the epigraph states: "[t]here is a parable--or maybe it's just part of a stand-up routine--that at the end of your life you are reunited with all the things that you have lost in your life" (5).  This section contains "The Birth and Death and Birth of Ganesh," which explores in poetic form the creation, destruction, and recreation of the mystically divine within a material universe.  The poem posits that a goddess can forge herself, as long as she exchanges that which has been lost or cast away: "Thus Parvati, without Shiva, without husband, set about making a creature for herself out of the discarded impurities of her own body, hardened in the Ganges" (67).  With these lines, a collection focused on the intangible qualities of loss, ruin, and change ends with the image of the divine creating new divinity from her own body.  A collection that focuses on dualistic thinking--in love, in marriage, in memory, and in the very universe itself--requires readers to witness this exchange and to think it a fair trade.  As Arthur Vogelsang states on the collection's back cover, Perdido is a new kind of "contemporary myth," one in which we can lose ourselves in the reading in order to find ourselves anew.

Allison E. Brown teaches English at Midland College in Midland, Texas and is completing a Ph.D. in English at The City University of New York.  She studied poetry under Tina Barr at Rhodes College, and her current scholarly work focuses on early American poetics, alternative narrative strategies, and Native American literature. 


Amy Meng, Bridled
Warrensburg, MO: Pleiades Press, 2018. 61 pp.
Winner of the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize for Poetry
Review by Carolee Bennett

      Imagine seeking something only to find it "present / as a sudden missing / blip on a radar screen." If love is an object that can be traced that way, Amy Meng's debut collection follows its path and tells us "that searching was almost / like being seen." Note the use of the word almost; it begins to describe the space occupied by the poems, which live between the radar's blips: "how neatly distance hides, tucked / like a kerchief." As Bridled's narrator details experiences of anticipation, confusion and surprise, the pattern of disappearing and reappearing is central but subtle. Think, for example, of how we breathe (inhale, exhale, repeat). Think of how the sun provides a rhythm: "Soon I will be unafraid // even of the sun / following me through the years." Think of how we form the habit of falling asleep next a lover: "our bed: / the place we went to close / our eyes and vanish next to each other." Bridled reminds us that in love, even as these cycles accumulate (they appear and reappear), they may also erode (disappear) what's trying to be created. To texturize this theme in the poems, Meng often utilizes lists, which make the perfect device by giving the impression of accretion. Sometimes, however, like with "Routine," "Song" and "Selection from the Catalogue of Gazes" (list poems in Bridled), lists actually capture what's missing. As the collection progresses, the absences begin to matter less. Like the weaver in Meng's "Penelope," Bridled's narrator learns to direct parts of her own story: "each night at the loom / she picks apart the shroud grown // soft as milkweed." While the radar blips continue, they record more of the narrator's own momentum: "the list goes on and she rises / into her new life, believing."

Carolee Bennett lives in Upstate New York, where --after a local, annual poetry competition --she has fun saying she was the "almost" poet laureate of Smitty's Tavern. She has an MFA in poetry and works full-time as a writer in social media marketing. 

Heather Thomas, Vortex Street
Athens, Georgia; Futurecycle Press, 2018. 83 pp.
Review by Vanessa Loh

      Being blind inside the landscape of someone else's memory--that is the initial sensation reading Vortex Street by Heather H. Thomas. At first the poems seem radically foreign to my own experience: an eddying of places and selves, of language and time. There are generally few contextual explanations--and that's what makes it feel like someone's memory, where the stage does not need to be set because the context is taken for granted. The poems are refined to their essential sensual or emotional content and tend towards synethestic relationships, like in the final line of "Dark-Mapping toward Tanta": "the moon is sung by a boy." Ultimately it's techniques like synesthesia, repetition, and an idiosyncratic use of language that create an opening for the reader's intuition and thereby cultivate identification.
      Spread throughout the collection are six different poems all titled "Postcard from Vortex Street." These short poems appear between longer more involved poems, fittingly, as though they come from some other time and place. They are an example of how literary devices can saturate a work with those inarticulable experiences that demand a more imprecise point of entry. The deeply lyric nature of the collection is heightened as these postcard poems create the sense of an internal other--or internal others--who complicate further the already complex first person speaker. And these internal others can be read alongside the external others who introduce yet other hypothetical or imagined viewpoints as their stories come to inform the speaker's perspective. The poem "Face of the Earth" begins with the beheading of a journalist by ISIS. The event is incorporated into the speaker's worldview and in that process--of questioning and doubt and doubling over--alters the terrain of the possible. The Notes section at the back of the volume explains this poem is "in memoriam" for the assassinated reporter, so poignantly underscoring how we honor others not only in poetry but in how our own lives are changed by their experiences.
      From self to other without crossing an edge, Vortex Street brings together these internal and external voices as inseparably as a möbius strip. The self is treated as at once absolutely consolidated and widely dispersed. To close, a brief excerpt from the poem "Double Helix":
  As if standing at the crossroad
        buttoning your coat, wind-whipped,
  the coat scissoring into tatters and you
        spiraling into cloudscript

Sara Pirkle Hughes, The Disappearing Act
Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2018. 80 pp.
Review by Katherine Watkins

      In an impressive first collection of poems, Sara Pirkle Hughes reflects upon her experiences growing up in a small Southern town where the "gospel quartet . . . made its rounds/ like a bullet in a chamber," and there was "no such thing/ as dreams, just time/ and the slant of time's shadow melting on the grass." Despite the speaker's assertion in a poem titled "My Hometown" that "You would never come here on a whim," the world that forms the backdrop of The Disappearing Act is anything but dull when filtered through Hughes's unflinching gaze and clever idiom.
      One of the most intriguing aspects of this collection is the way Hughes reveals the contradictions and inconsistencies of individuals living in a community governed by old-fashioned decorum while secretly pining for raw expressions of passionate intensity. In "Where I Come From," for instance, the speaker remarks that "When someone dies,/ all the proper neighbors/ produce sweet potato pies." They stand around exchanging somber observations about life and death while silently yearning "to touch someone, anyone/ besides their beloveds." The idea of private desire conflicting with outward expression is echoed elsewhere, as in "View from a Bench in February" where a speaker spots an attractive stranger at the park and fantasizes about a physical encounter: "I pictured him pressing me/ against a dresser, his grim/ hands tangled in my hair." When the stranger disappears, the dejected speaker is left alone with her thoughts: "I slipped back into my red wool coat,/ shuffled back to my car, begged/ the wind to make me new again."
      Whether exploring the innocence of childhood, the complexity of family ties, or the difficulty of negotiating conflicting desires, Sara Pirkle Hughes's poems reward the mind and delight the senses. Refreshingly accessible and fearlessly candid, The Disappearing Act not only satisfies, it guarantees successive revisits by readers hungry for clear, honest reflection.

Katherine Watkins majored in Creative Writing as an undergraduate student at Rhodes College before moving to Scotland for two years where she earned a Master's in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh. Currently, she teaches Advanced Placement Literature and Dual Enrollment English at a Title 1 high school in Memphis, Tennessee. She was a 2017 recipient of the Milken Educator Award for the state of Tennessee.
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