What in the absence of color will staunch
this dreaming, what without fire will cauterize,
clot? Can nothing—not doubt nor distraction
nor sleep nor dopamine—stopper this seeping
Andrew Osborn’s “Scabs of Ichor” opens the latest issue of the Spoon River Poetry Review, introducing a number of themes that permeate the journal as a whole. In these lines we see a need for expression, an unintended yearning felt by the artist (perhaps specifically a painter, since we must “watch as the brushstrokes / of silver-salt-sensitized egg whites . . . cook to yield a girl’s face”). Here there is a strong relationship between the maker and the made, the art described not only as something pouring forth from deep within its creator, but as ichor, the blood/fluid of the Greek gods, golden, immortal. Osborn’s piece accurately describes—in conjunction with several other selections—the overall feeling of SRPR: a return to the past, a mythologizing of one’s roots, a desire to explain the troubling (or mundane, or beautiful) occurrences of our daily lives.
Kristin Prevallet’s “The Gulf of Mexico,” from the larger work “Everywhere Here and in Brooklyn (A Four Quartets),” further communicates the sentiment of returning to the past. When faced with the immensity of the Gulf, the narrator muses, “City dwellers / Live to forget the attraction of all living things / To water’s pull of raging weather.” The attraction is something undeniable but ignored because “we have other machines to worship,” despite the connection formed by similar molecules. Edward Hirsch’s “Prayers of an Unbeliever” recalls shared human experience as well, taking us through the streets of the Old City, Warsaw, where there is no trace left of the horrific acts committed by the Nazis because “it’s all been disinfected.” Unlike Prevallet’s city dwellers, the narrator here makes a conscious effort to remember where he came from, to find comfort in the remembering:
Lord in whom I can’t believe,
I am going to walk through the Old City
and then lie down with my love
in this dirty world
which is both the Song of Songs
and the Book of Lamentations.
Towards the middle of the issue comes a collection of poems by Austin Smith, SRPR’s featured Illinois Poet, and an extremely well-executed interview by Editor Kirstin Hotelling Zona. The two discuss the essential base of Smith’s work, his “fascination with the sensation of home as, at once, a source of salvation and self-annihilation.” He deals heavily with the subject of the Midwest—or, a return to the Midwest—the burden of growing up on and then losing (and leaving) his family’s dairy farm. Tragically, he admits, “I can’t be [on the farm] physically, so I have to be there poetically. But it’s a dangerous place to dwell, and oftentimes I feel like I’m being sucked into a world that doesn’t really exist.” In “Mission,” a particularly telling poem, the narrator comes back to the Midwest “as light / returns to a black hole, having / thought itself sufficiently disguised / as music.” Smith’s work is memory—the guilt of memory—disguised as, or wrapped in, poetry.
When reconsidering his poems after reading the interview, it’s difficult not to see him as the man described in “Bedtime Story”: “bearing the mirror of the moon / on his back” because the sun told him that “a beautiful woman / would step out of it naked as if out / of a bathtub.” Both men seem to suffer from the weight of what they carry, seeking an end, a calm moment during which they can put down their mirrors. “Aerial Photograph, Glasser Farm, 1972” and “Romeo and Juliet in the Tomb” are also particularly impressive works, meditative in their lengthy sentences and lack of stanza breaks.
Maya Jewell Zeller’s “The Filling,” Linda Strever’s “How To Love,” and Joseph O. Legaspi’s “Threshold of Revelation” all stuck out to me as well. And while it began as a simple attraction to the authors’ stylistic choices (take, for example, a striking line from Legaspi’s piece: “A conundrum this union / of identical bodies, fusing in hungry, irrational / ways, squeezing a camel through a needle’s eye”), I soon realized that these poems also dealt with desire, a hunt for understanding. My own attraction signifies the issue’s cohesion and its accessibility, both of which make for a good read. It is a series of framed photos, compartmentalized moments and thoughts that we can flip through, reference points in our own journeys.