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  • Old Soul
  • CL Bledsoe (bio)
Before the Great Troubling. Corey Mesler. unbound CONTENT. 118 pages; paper, $16.00.

Corey Mesler's succinct poetry shows the restraint of Miller Williams or Jo McDougall; in short, he reminds one of the stripped-down feel of Arkansas poetry, which makes sense, since he resides in Memphis, just across the river from the Arkansas Delta flatland. To describe Corey Mesler as prolific is like calling the universe big; in the last year, Mesler has released two novels, a full-length poetry collection, and several chapbooks, in addition to having work pop up in so many journals that it's almost more of a surprise when he isn't in one. What is the appeal? Well, he's certainly accessible. When you read a Mesler poem, it makes sense. He's more literate than any PhD lit student I've ever met, peppering his poems, novels, and stories with literary and pop culture references from John Lennon to Thomas Pynchon. And he loves Memphis. You can tell, because he writes about it so emphatically. There's nothing more endearing than reading a writer who loves his subject. Also, he's playful. He's quirky and funny. And he owns a bookstore. What more could you ask for in a poet?

Several of these poems deal with growing up, either from the point of view of a parent or an adult looking back on one's own childhood. The collection begins with "Opening" which describes a child opening a door to greet the day. Mesler describes the door and states that it is the beginning of the day. He describes a ritual:

We gather briefly topray, to say theold words again.The world briefly cracksopen, an egg.

Mesler's language is deceptively complex. Through the metaphor of the egg, he implies the meal of breakfast. Praying also might precede this meal. At the same time, he implies the joy of parenthood—the world "cracking open" or brimming with possibilities. He uses light imagery to reinforce this, as well as describing the child thus:

The child's eyes arefull of life.We believe it is ourlife.

In seemingly simple statements, Mesler implies a complex familial relationship full of joy and hope.

In "Removing Stumps," Mesler shows another incarnation of this relationship. He describes his father as a kind of boyhood hero, "broad-backed / and sweating" to remove stumps. He continues, "I saw my a man, larger than life." And he is very serious about removing stumps:

Some of themhe drilled holes infilledthe holes with motor oiland let them burn slowly.

The young Mesler takes a turn, "hack(ing) like a thin- / limbed girl." "Taking out stumps was an / all-day adventure," Mesler tells us. In regards to his father's machismo, Mesler states, "I am not that kind of / man / ... / I could no more remove a stump / than fly." Now, Mesler has a son of his own with whom Mesler shares his poetry, "hoping he sees in it / something... / only a superman could manage."

In a similar vein, "Watching Things Fall from a Distance" describes shooting birds with a friend's .22 as a child.

Later we grew up anddiscovered divorceand depression.Death we already knew.

Mesler is again subtly profound in his language. He describes the boys shooting, their "breath hung in the air / like mercy." It's a provocative image. Perhaps he means the boys' "mercy" was thin, fleeting; they are killing birds, after all. He continues,

We pulled thattrigger over and over.Watching things fallfrom a distance.

Here, Mesler has set up a complex meditation on the nature of memory, morality, and maturity.

Mesler is picky with words, describing much with few. "Ash" clocks in at seventeen words and describes a desire to

drinkthe dew

fromthe flower


Mesler's imagery conjures serenity and yet deep lust. "Phoenix," at twelve words, describes the rebuilding of a "burned-out / duplex."

Many of Mesler's poems capture seemingly commonplace occurrences, and yet by singling them out, Mesler makes them transformative—his daughter's sticky hands...


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