Bookmarks | Formal Poetry is Alive and Well

Denis Donoghue once wrote that James Merrill’s poetry was “a net of loose talk tightening to verse.” This is also a good way to describe Spencer Reece’s new poetry collection, The Road to Emmaus (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). There is a pleasant, relaxed clarity to the verse even when Reece, who recently became a priest in the Reformed Episcopal Church, talks about darkness—the darkness of the world (the neonatal ICU, where “newborns breathed, / blue, spider-delicate in nests of tubes”; a Puerto Rican mother who “weeps, her stabbed son intubated before us”) and the darkness of the soul (Reece’s struggles with vocation, with the call to remember the poor, with death and despair). These poems are delicate but rarely precious, serious but never sententious, religious but not dogmatic.

A prime example of Reece’s delicacy—and of his skill as a storyteller—comes in “Monaco,” one of the collection’s best poems. First, we meet an ill-matched, unnamed couple. She, a hardened, “handsome” Frenchwoman, “made her money in the drug trade” and now sells works of art—“a Matisse here, a Picasso there.” He, on the other hand, is a “tall, athletic, effeminate” American man who “looked as if he were being chased / by something no one could see.” We learn of their rapid...

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About the Author

Anthony Domestico is an assistant professor of literature at Purchase College, SUNY. His book on poetry and theology in the modernist period is forthcoming from Johns Hopkins University Press.