A Scrap in the Blessings Jar: New and Selected Poems

Louisiana State Univ. (Southern Messenger Poets). Oct. 2023. 192p. ed. by Ernest Suarez. ISBN 9780807180693. $50. POETRY
In this beautiful collection of poems, some winnowed from already-published books plus a number of new ones, Bottoms (Otherword, Underworld, Prayer Porch), a Walt Whitman Award winner, creates a world composed of the past (a father injured in WWII, a childhood in the rural South), as well as many works that share his deep connection to nature. The poet’s descriptions of nature help readers hear the sounds and imagine the settings: “String pluck and fret buzz—the sound of a spooked bird.” Bottoms also has an ability to find the spiritual in ordinary days and places, demonstrated in poems describing everything from car-racing on a country road, to breaking into an abandoned school to find a father’s carved name on a desk, to sitting with a five older men relatives sharing a deep silence after lunch. Occasionally, a word or phrase strikes a wrong note (for instance, “Quietly now, the bats jerk/ in and out of the streetlight”), but almost always deeper in the poem, readers is stopped, even enthralled by a striking image.
VERDICT A collection rich in knowledge about what it means to be human, the rewards and responsibilities of love, and how nature can assuage pain and fear. Highly recommended.
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