Friday, March 7, 2014

An Important New Voice

I first met the poet Melissa Crowe some ten years back when she was in graduate school at the University of Georgia. Even in those school days, people talked about her. Melissa had something like an aura about her, a gentleness and a brilliant critical eye that allowed her to see into the heart of things as she began to craft indelible poems.

Melissa is a Maine girl, and after finishing her Ph.D. course work in Athens, she and her young family moved to Presque Isle, where she took a position with the local branch of the University of Maine. We kept up from time to time, and I knew that she was writing.
Melissa Crowe

But I was, I admit, not quite prepared for her intense, marvelous new book of poetry called girl, giant, out not long ago from Kentucky's Finishing Line Press. It is one of the finest collections I've seen in years, and I urge you to buy it and see the lovely world on which this amazingly gifted woman has been focusing in the past few years.

Her poetry on the surface seems simple rhetorically and in its ideas. But that surface fractures into thousands of rich, intense, and complex pieces if you spend even a few minutes with it. Trust me: if you read even one poem in this book, you will want to tell everyone you know about it--and her.

A blog is no place to write a long critical article, and I'm not a critic anyway. So I thought I'd share one of the poems in the collection with you. This is used by permission from Melissa and originally appeared in Crab Orchard Review. It is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without permission. This is about her daughter.

       for Annabelle, walking

It's almost beautiful
what the skin can do:

bloom. A stain
like a violet opening

its blue on the silk
of your cheek. Once

an organ of mine, born
you're a lost lung

and me, half breathless.
You've fallen from some height

and your journey marked
you. I can't ignore

what has risen
to the surface: tenderness,

your body's reminder
there is only

the skin's distance
between here and gone.

The book is filled with such deeply moving and incandescent work. While much of it deals with the ordinary days and ways of life, Melissa Crowe has an eye that pulls together so many threads that one has the sense of being inside the poem looking out, not outside and reading one's way in.

Poet Rachel Contreni Flynn says that Crowe "has given us the gift of poems that are at once gentle and unflinchingly genuine, that manage to soothe us even as they unsettle . . . Uncles, lovers, mothers, orphans, and teenagers all come together [in] this wonderfully vibrant book . . . ." Former Maine poet laureate Betsy Sholl calls it "a thrilling performance."

It is all that and more. Crowe's is a rich voice that digs down into the foundations of love. It is a powerful and lasting gift. I am deeply grateful, and you will be, too.

After living in Maine for some years, she and her husband Mark, and their daughter Annabelle now live in Asheville, N.C., and it's a joy to have her back as a southern writer. Keep an eye on this vastly talented and rising young writer.

And buy her book. It's easy to find and order online. You will treasure your copy.

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