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“After Words,” by Joyce Sutphen. (Red Dragonfly Press, 82 pages, $15.)
In “After Words,” Minnesota State Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen takes the role of preservationist. She writes, “When you lost / that ground, how it was covered with cement / and brick and steel, I say I know how that / feels.”
In precise language, she describes chores such as hanging wash, whitewashing and cutting hay, and girls in a parish grade school. Like a landscape painter smoothing her brush stroke, Sutphen crafts poems to display content, not show off poetic techniques. Her sonnets are so natural that readers could easily miss the form.
Sutphen’s limpid descriptions make these scenes of rural Minnesota accessible to even the most urban reader. She uses resonant images to carry the emotional weight of her poems, leaving them uncluttered by commentary. She writes, “I know that too, and / what to say, watching the rain slide / in silver chains over the machine / shed’s roof.”
At times, this insistence on local knowledge can seem myopic. In “The Small Towns,” after the waitresses head off to college to “read Henry James / and James Joyce,” “they won’t be happy anywhere.”
However, these poems argue that profundity exists in the everyday and that these lives — simple though they seem from the outside — are valuable and rich. Even if they never leave the farm.
Elizabeth Hoover is assistant director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va.