New poetry collections by Minnesota writers sing with nature, history and a deep love of words.
“Slip,” by Cullen Bailey Burns (New Issues/WesternW Michigan University, 61 pages, $15)
“Of course we are beautiful in our remembering,” Cullen Bailey Burns writes in “Nostalgia.”
“The land’s / slope and give, the way pines also cling / to curve and inclination and somehow I am back / at desire.”
In her second book of poetry, a finalist this year for a Minnesota Book Award, Burns keeps circling back to the word “desire.” Nestled in carefully crafted images, ordered stanzas and controlled syntax, desire is an abstraction, not a hot-burning emotion.
Burns’ restraint can distance the reader, but also surprise with moments of realization.
“After the War” begins “Birds hold the moon up” and ends describing a marriage: “tumbled so, / bloodied, trailing a little light.” She writes about the beautiful birds and the broken marriage in the same measured syntax.
The speaker examines memories, trying to get details right as if they hold an elusive clue. She writes, “legs entwined in what?” or “he said / am? Was?”
A greater loss haunts these poems. Hinted at in images, it is a loss the speaker can approach only the edges of. It is the story of a girl “very far away, so far we must imagine her face.”
Burns writes: “We think to call out to her / in her field of sage and blossom, think / of no words to draw her back to our / wide open arms.”
Words cannot bring the girl back. Instead they offer beauty or “transmutation: water, sky, gold.”
“The Scent of Water,” by Patricia Barone (Blue Light Press, 81 pages, $15.95)
The New Agey cover of Patricia Barone’s second book of poetry doesn’t prepare the reader for Barone’s exuberant weirdness, dense vocabulary and seriously exciting work.
In this book, readers will discover words such as diapause, albumin, friable and subfusc. Barone describes the “conchiolin arks of escargot” and a “deasil wind.” In her playful homages to William Blake, she adds footnotes to define particularly archaic words.
Her poems are full of dirt, muck and slime. Her language — fecund and alive — matches her image of nature as “a maniac for sperm.” She writes of “new leaves, slightly red and sticky” and trees being “a smolder of yellow-green.” She acknowledges “ripeness turns to rot” and offers images of “squash with blossom-end rot” and “tomatoes infected with tumors of smut.”
These poems evoke the landscape around the Mississippi River. The river is awe-inspiring and unpredictable. Its drought can send the clay receding “like unhealthy gums from teeth” and its flood can cause rutabagas to bob “like buoys beneath our feet.”
Reading Barone’s poetry, one encounters greedily gathering words to create challenging and rich poetry featuring flowers and the mud they need to grow. It would be a shame if the cover prevents readers from discovering this heavyweight poet.