3 out of 4 stars
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Beyond the Thorned Holly by Gregory Cenac is an eclectic poetry collection that includes observations and reminiscences of places and people that touched the author in some way. The poems were written over the past five years or so. In addition to the poetry, there is a fable about a bear and a few short essays.
The poems are written in free verse and have an easy, rhythmic style. I found the author’s writing to be sophisticated yet accessible. The word choices are spot on and give the book that extra spark that makes it special. At its best, poetry should convey emotions, clear imagery, or a mix of both. The author has managed to present these elements well.
There is an underlying theme of Southern racism in a few of the poems, but it is written through the lens of the author’s personal observations of members of his family and others. The characters are realistically written and their attitudes are revealed to the reader in subtle ways.
It’s hard to pick a favorite in this diverse collection, but there are some standouts. In the very relatable “The Paseo,” the author reminisces about sights he has seen in different places, but is glad to be back in his beloved Missouri. The emotions leap off the page and the imagery is so clear that I felt like I was in each place he described. “Rene” is a haunting tribute to what appears to be the author’s flawed, racist grandfather. I also enjoyed the effective refrain, “did I mention that I am tall and that I have blue eyes,” in “The Narcissist” as a man struggles to understand why “she” left him.
While I loved most of the poems, there are a few that I found a bit obscure and I missed the point. I felt that there was some inside meaning that was personal to the author, but that the reader wasn’t let in on. These pieces were well written, but it was as if I had been given a peek into someone’s diary where I didn’t fully understand the context.
There are several errors sprinkled throughout the book. In five instances, I noticed a space between a word and the comma that follows. There are also a few spelling errors/typos (“wel l” instead of “well”, “teaclhing” instead of “teaching”, “iadioFound” instead of ???), an extra space between words, a period on the next line, and inconsistent line breaks. In a few instances, there are a couple of blank pages between poems; in one case, I initially thought the book was finished since I flipped at least four pages until I got to the next poem.
I give this book a rating of 3 out of 4 stars. The errors prevent me from awarding the highest rating. Still, this collection is unique and thought-provoking, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys poems with perceptive observations and beautiful imagery.
Beyond The Thorned Holly
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