By: Jerri Beck, ed.
Reviewed by: Keith Badowski
Churn Dash Press, 2007
Poems from the Big Table samples the work of five poets, all members of a Birmingham poetry workshop. The concept of binding several chapbooks together in one volume makes economic sense and potentially widens the audience for each poet.
The book includes a total of fifty poems, with eight to twelve poems per contributor. Most of the pages display poetry of reasonable merit. Of the fifty, fourteen poems (about two or three in each section) struck me as outstanding.
Jerri Beck’s eerie poem “Night/Fall” is an atmospheric narrative of a soldier’s homecoming after war. Beck chills the reader with striking phrases: “The wind plays the night / in a minor key” and “the cat ghostwalks / to the fading flame.” No words are exchanged between solider and speaker, but instead, in a surreal touch, the soldier gives “voice to snow.”
Robert Boliek engages the intellect with his poem “In the Museum of Natural History.” From an adult point of view, the speaker ruminates about recent scientific discoveries concerning dinosaurs, a childhood fascination. The tightly rhymed tetrameter lines skillfully lull the reader into an imaginative and speculative frame of mind.
Suzanne Coker’s standout poem is “Taking the Veil,” a chronicle in four brief stanzas of the tragic life of the speaker’s mother. The mother is absorbed by the “veil,” a metaphor for manic depression leading to alcoholism. Through vivid instances (diving off a yacht, slumming in a city apartment, and child-bearing), readers trace how her mother failed time and again to find satisfaction.
Irene Latham strikes a resonant cord with her poem “Peeling an Orange” about a reunion with a prodigal father. The details of the brief encounter are plain and unadorned, yet quite emotive.
Barry Marks conjures a disturbing feeling of unease with his poem “Aftermath” about a vacuous black spot that consumes the speaker’s marriage and ultimately himself.
Space does not permit me to mention all the best poems found here. Overall, Poems from the Big Table is dominated by poems of moderate promise, yet each of the five Birmingham poets exhibits a few works of brilliance that stand out from the pack.
Keith Badowski is a poet and minister in Phenix City.