Souvankham Thammavongsa lays her words out in a variety of shapes and forms, though her signature style includes lyric compactness and austere line placements complemented by ample white space. The spaces are given as much thought and weight as the words themselves. Her style is a refreshing contrast to the dense, baroque imagery of current poetic styles. Other work can feel hyperbolic and verbose after reading Thammavongsa’s lean verse. The poems in Light are neither superficial nor undemanding, creating instead a space of quiet discomfort.
A heap of treasure perfectly describes Susan Downe’s intriguing tale, Juanita Wildrose: My True Life. Downe delves not only into her mother’s life, but into lives of an earlier generation caught up in the fraught years of the American Civil War. The photos, letters and family documents Downe uses were found safely stored in the “ancestor’s drawer” of Juanita Wildrose’s desk. This material, combined with skeins of history and snippets of poetry, run like a rich vein through Downe’s account of her mother’s unusual life.
Downe’s book is episodic, shifting, with aplomb, between life on a primitive, turn-of-the-century farm in Texas County, Missouri, where the family settled in l906, to a glance-back at the heartbreak and grim tutelage of the war between the states. It is a generational story told in the voice of Juanita, the second of six children of Mallie and George Malcolm Emack, who left Witchita, Kansas for the fresh air of a Missouri farm.
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