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Recommendation: “The Clerk’s Tale” by Spencer Reece

Although the poems in this book are somewhat hit-or-miss, swinging from predictable to surprising (often all within the same piece), it is for these moments of surprising imagery that The Clerk’s Tale is worth a read.  Reece himself is an assistant manager of a Brooks Brothers, and while a couple of the poems in the books address them, his homosexuality and themes of love, loneliness, and family are much more prevalent throughout the book.

Reece’s tone and voice is somehow simultaneously lush and sparse, overly emotional and not emotional enough.  At first reading, he comes across as a little Eliot-esque, but his strange combination of casual language and language that more befits scholarly essays gives him a voice all his own.  This voice, with its high/low combination, is distinctive yet a bit scattered.  Sometimes, however, the contrast between these two tones is effective, such as in these two back-to-back couplets in “Ghazals for Spring”:

“My soul has drifted too long like a cloud, so come and heal me,
bring me to the dirt, let my pores ooze with the brine of discotheques.

Hey you! Come unto me! Let the meadow march into my mouth!
I’m due for a moist trembling emotion, don’t you think? Well, don’t you?”

The real sticking point of Reece’s poetry is, however, his imagery, as has been mentioned.  His use of language is often very new and original, such as the opening line of “Autumn Song,” which starts with “The muscular sky of Minnesota.”  Additionally comes this couplet also from “Ghazals for Spring”:

“Yesterday evening the daffodil shoots swallowed the horizon like butter;
now we wait all day for the color yellow to bubble in their throats.”

There are, however, times when the image or images at first do not seem to work, but at the same time, I feel they fit the poems that they are contained in and are, inarguably, very unique and memorable.  For instance, there is the opening of “Diminuendo”:

“The heat of the Midwest night fills with the hush of elms
weeping the bluest of shadows,
their limbs cavernous as Jesus’ limbs must have been,
while two lovers liberate themselves in the grasses
and the vegetables converse in small support groups
about the catastrophe of their ensuing deaths
and the sky gushes and the lilies of the field tremble”

There is something strangely humorous in this passage as in many other places throughout his book, but something about their delivery seems as though they were intended in absolute earnest.  Perhaps this was intended as a type of dry, knowing wit, or perhaps it is only the reader who sees the humor in vegetable support groups.  Either way, there is something fresh and enjoyable about the much of the language in Reece’s poems, and this alone–the discovery of strange, delightful little images within his lines–seems reason enough to encourage others to read his work.

The Clerk’s Tale is not a long book and one would argue that it is not overly substantial either, but it is very readable, the sort of poetry book that can be read cover-to-cover in a single afternoon, and this, of course, in no way a bad thing.  Sometimes a book of often surprising, rarely unpleasant poetry is all one really needs.

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