Friday, November 13, 2009

Review of Terry Kirby Erickson's "Telling Tales of Dusk"

Review (First Published in Wild Goose Poetry Review)
Telling Tales of Dusk
by Terri Kirby Erickson
Press 53 (2009) 107 pages, $12.00
ISBN: 9780982441633, Poetry

What do a Ferris wheel, a motel sign, a roadside diner, and a bay window have in common? In the poetry of Terri Kirby Erickson, they are all sources of light, literal means and transformative symbols of salvation in the poems “County Fair,” “Star Lite Motel,” “Betty’s Roadside Diner,” and “Saving Grace,” respectively.

And perhaps salvation is what poetry is all about, redeeming the finer details of life by imbuing them with the value of memory, finding meaning in what we might otherwise all too easily deem meaningless. As Williams helped us realize just how much did depend upon a red wheelbarrow, Erickson finds meaning in how “Queen Anne’s lace dandies up a ditch” (“Queen Anne’s Lace”), in how an old woman’s moaning is like the wind “when it whips / around a house, rattling windows, / searching for cracks,” (“Assisted Living”) searching, in other words, for ways in, much the same way this woman searches for her way into another world, one of peace, reunion, and clarity.

The speaker of that poem in her unforgettable search for what is inexplicably missing from her world is only the first of a number of remarkable portraits gathered in this collection. There is also the lonely man in “The Speckled Trout CafĂ©,” the illiterate preacher who builds his sermons on the scripture read to him by his less faithful wife “the words warmed / by her breath and scattered into his / brain like dandelion seeds” in “Papa Never Learned to Read,” and the blues guitarist in “Delta Blues” who, the speaker comments, “should roll a stone / over hurt that deep, but” instead lifts “it up like Lazarus for anybody / lucky enough to listen.”

These portraits and simple symbols of salvation add up to a memorable second collection of work on their own, but the reader should be careful not to be fooled by the apparent simplicity of these poems, for just as still waters run deepest, the greatest revelations are often expressed in the fewest words. I, for one, am a fan of understatement, something often achieved in poetry through the metaphysical, poems which, as Dickinson encouraged, “tell all the truth but tell it slant.” In “Smoke and Mirrors,” for example, Erickson doesn’t spell out her warning of how a teleological obsession with the prize indiscriminately dissolves all else from our focus, good and bad, superfluous and necessary. Instead she shows only how the call of a longed-for boy affects the perception of a young girl: “The boy / I was talking to dissolved, tablet-like, / in the watered down scenery of the things / that were not you.” Similarly, in “Daisy Chain,” she presents the image of four little girls “daisy chained” to their mother to illustrate “belonging so / palpable, it beat like heart / on the pavement.”

Just as these poems are satisfying in their surface-level imagery but tricky in their larger or deeper implications, so too is the book as a whole. There are plenty of poems that seem trivial, merely descriptive, but taken together, they are subtly effective, quietly teaching the reader to reach deeper into the everyday image to recognize and value significance. In other words, they lull you into such comfort that when you finally begin to cry while reading “Blue Hydrangeas,” you realize the poems have taught you the empathy needed to feel this deeply for someone you’ve never known and that you’re not crying just for the speaker of this poem, who reminds us that as long as we are able to love anything our capacity to love ourselves remains, but for all the speakers of all the poems and the wonderfully vital world in which they live, the same world you realize in which you live.


  1. I love this line of the review..."as long as we are able to love anything our capacity to love ourselves remains"....WOW!!!

  2. i love thinking of poetry as a form of salvation. that is very true!