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Book Reviews

Pouring Small Fire

by Susan Manchester

With concrete imagery painted over punchy verse, Pouring Small Fire resembles a collection of nature photographs capturing memorable scenes. Poet and English teacher Susan Manchester writes how “the mist still paused” and “rude oaks laugh at maples from opposite sides of lawn.”

Emotions collide from all angles in Manchester’s ocean of imagery. Anger, grief, loneliness, passion, and pain swirl together to produce 96 poems that paint pictures while exposing Manchester’s deepest emotions. “Placing Mother in the Home” features a character with the same name as Manchester who desires familial comfort. The past creeps on stealthy feet in “The Sound of Memory,” as regrets escalate to the climax line: “I was wrong to sound out the syllables of strength so soon.”

The poems’ strength lies in their rhythmic beats, as staccato lines follow twisting phrases. Manchester’s ear for cadence and telling details infuse the poems with an energy that shines even in passages dealing with such charged emotions as grief. The personal and nature tableaus captured on page buzz with their own intensity.

The collection’s weakest moments occur when Manchester tries to explain complex ideas or personal transformation in rambling rants that never gel into complete poems. Several poems are marred by this unfocused approach, yet even these pieces are often saved with one of Manchester’s poignant last lines, such as one from “This Is the Dream” that sums up the collection’s scope: “to be so completely used/to touch every shore at the same time.”