|A Review of
Barbies at Communion and Other Poems.
By Marcus Goodyear.
Paperback: T.S. Poetry Press, 2010.
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Reviewed by Thomas Turner.
What strikes the reader most about Marcus Goodyear’s poetry is the immediate action of the poetry. The action is simultaneous with the writng, as if Goodyear was dictating the present in lines like a sportscaster gives a play-by-play on a baseball game. The effect of Goodyear’s poetry is not immediately deep or penetrating but matter-of-fact, a pronouncement of ordinary life in poetic lines.
This lack of impact is Goodyear’s modus operandi as he seeks to find meaning in the commonplace and mundane. If anything, the poetry in this collection testifies to the fact that anything, and I mean anything, can become sharp and fragrant with meaning when in the hands of a poet.
In order to capture the commonplace in his poetry Goodyear must deconstruct the sacramental into its common elements. He strips away the layers of meaning from figures of Christ and the Eucharist, leaving only “saltless crackers / and shots of grape juice” along with “Jesuses in the attic / after Christmas.” Goodyear removes the metaphorical in order to let the literal stand naked before us, and in a twist of his poetic prowess, he uses his steady syntax and phrasing to build up an image from the deconstructed literal. This is most evident in the titles of his poems, which give direction to the meaning that Goodyear delivers in his poetry of ordinary life.
Goodyear can accomplish this poetic game of stripping down to the literal and building up again because of his clever use of conceit. The reader (this review included) can so easily be lulled into the normalcy of Goodyear’s images, only to discover that in his recounting of a seemingly dull event there is a deep beauty and majesty to the everyday and ordinary. Goodyear showcases this deft skill in poems such as “Drought on the Open Road,” in which he writes:
Once the herd was so thirsty
they ate the burn right off
the interstate shoulder, two bites
from asphalt and cars flying
75 miles to nowhere.
Heat paralyzed cows
never look up.
In the singular image, which Goodyear commands so well, the poet offers up a commonplace moment that hinges on so much. In the isolated event of cows inching ever closer to the highway Goodyear pushes the reader to contemplate the chain reactions caused by a singular event. In essence, Goodyear’s simplicity of poetry is a conscious statement to the irreducible complexity of life, that complex weather systems can cause a drought that eventually leads a herd of cattle into the dangers lurking on an isolated patch of Texas highway.
The power of Goodyear’s poetry is thus in his ability to hold so much back, to be so reserved as a poet that he lets the multiple meanings of words burst out from the pages. In essence, he lets the poetry, and not the poet do the work. He does not seek to answer the mystery as other poets do, but stays in the realm of plain sight and plain poetry. As he himself writes, “Where the mystery is / too great, give us flesh.”
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com