I find a real sense of clarity within “Our Mother Drove Barefoot” that doesn't go overboard with unnecessary exposition. Beautifully detailed and haunting, the way so many childhood memories remain, it evokes a strong sense of sound that points to the mother's desperation and solitude — “A lonely cry/ in a hum of tires and interstate." Nice line pacing with strong breaks adds to the sense of movement and travel while the figurative language points to an imaginative, knowing child. All of it allows for a moment of empathy for the mother, but keeps readers in the moment.
“The Blue Stoop” is a love letter to a bygone place, or more precisely a bygone group of people who frequented the titular blue stoop. The poem opens conversationally with a question addressed to these people: “Who remembers the blue stoop?” But from this simple beginning, Devaney recreates an entire world with a litany of names and recollections. There is no wallowing in nostalgia here — only laughter and awe as the poem draws the reader into this world of people and music, old sayings, and old ways. And in doing so, even though the poem is an homage to this specific community around the blue stoop, where the poet asserts his own sense of belonging, it encompasses much more. “The Blue Stoop” becomes an homage to homages of any such place one remembers and wants to look back on, gathering with friends to recall something shared and gone with tenderness and truth.
Dawn Lundy Martin’s “[When the bed is empty]” punches through the gut of the inherited sonnet and remakes it anew as a silhouette or film negative, a thing we want to hold up to the light and handle with care. Martin’s cadence pushes back on our expectations of how a line can shuttle the reader across and down the page, forcing us to move differently through the body of this poem, and so become a new body with it. Holy in its refusal of predictable syntax and profane, too, in its loveliness, Martin has tailored this moment—this scene—to tend our private instincts and tap our deepest intuition. The volta is less an about-face and more a tap on the shoulder from a memory we thought long-drowned. Like the images in this poem, it is generous and terrifying and phosphorescent in its ache.
Marci Nelligan's “[When you guide the rope]” is a stunner: part incantation for possibility, part chronicle of future ineffables, this poem is all linguistic cinematography, lean with want. Nelligan’s lines sit on the edge of explosion, transporting the reader into a snapshot moment so tense with kinetic energy that the world might be ending or beginning with one bite. And who could look away? Nelligan has assembled a rich, muscling prose poem as gruesome as it is alluring and so steady in its pacing, the brutality of its beauty sneaks up with surprising intimacy. “Good of your rope. Good of your gloves,” Nelligan writes, and good of a world that brings us this poet, too.