4 out of 4 stars
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Beyond the Thorned Holly by Gregory Cenac is an eclectic collection of poems about observations and reminiscences of people and places that touched the author in some way. Written over the past five years, it contains a mix of topics sure to please a wide range of tastes. The book also includes a fable about a bear and a few short essays.
Written in free verse, the poems have an easy, rhythmic style. I found the writing to be sophisticated yet very accessible. The word choices are spot on and give the book that undefinable, special spark. At its best, poetry should convey emotions, clear imagery, or a mix of both. The author has managed to present these elements well. Taken as a whole, the poems form a scrapbook of moments - watching his grandparents dancing, looking out onto the Kansas prairie while the flight crew readies for takeoff, etc.
The author has a real talent for capturing the heart of something, even if the picture is not always rosy. There is an underlying theme of Southern racism in some of the poems, but it is viewed through the lens of the author’s personal observations about members of his family and others. The characters are realistically written and their prejudiced 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 transported to each place he described. “Elation” conveys that happy feeling you get on a balmy day in late winter, with the daffodils and crocuses peeking through the ground. In “The Narcissist,” I loved the simple yet effective refrain, “Did I mention that I am tall and that I have blue eyes,” as the man can’t understand why his wife left him.
While I loved most of the poems, there were a few where I missed the point. I felt 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 if I had been given a glimpse of someone’s diary where I didn’t fully understand the context.
I give this book the highest rating, 4 out of 4 stars. It is a unique and thought-provoking collection, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys poems with perceptive observations and beautiful imagery.
Beyond The Thorned Holly
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