Kentucky Poets' Home Struggles

Kentucky Poets take on the ideas of being home

Apr 24, 2024 at 11:46 am
Kentucky Poets' Home Struggles

Being home — the arriving, and being in a place where you most feel you belong, and knowing that it’ll be a constant for you leave and return — is a privilege for many, mere aspiration for others. Some poets can uniquely see into the possibilities of going through life with that feeling both present and absent — changing like ever-shifting wind. Others can share the insights of how that feeling can be reached for, but any connection is compromised because it has grown from twisted or flayed roots.

Among the books produced by Kentucky-associated poets in 2024 are two that distinctly deny or question their poet’s sense of fulfilling security in knowing and being home.

Author of Between a Bird Cage and a Bird House, Katerina Stoykova - courtesy of publisher
courtesy of publisher
Author of Between a Bird Cage and a Bird House, Katerina Stoykova

Lexington’s Katerina Stoykova, who immigrated from Bulgaria two decades ago and has since produced several collections, gives us “Between a Bird Cage and a Bird House” (Univ. Press of Kentucky; 100 pgs., $19.95). The gains and losses of leaving Soviet-influenced Eastern Europe weigh heavily here. As for America, it flows throughout the contents, including a structural device of subtly pithy conversational exchanges.Opportunities that Stoykova might find in community, in relationships? She can cut their shortcomings to the quick with lines so narrow they seem to have been written through a seething squint. And all along, the observant reader can see how the surface accusations open doors to reveal a bravely shared self-interrogation.

The collection employs small groups of poems weaving in and out like personal phases of concern or like seasons that hang on so long as to offer revelation —and maybe hope. But the poet regularly returns to an ambivalence that threatens emotional devastation. Attention must be paid — the titles often demand it: “You’ll be given everything, twice,” It’s a Great Day to Burn,’ the Man Said,” “We Must Be Very Careful When Using the Word ‘Home’.” Jeremy Michael Clark, originally from Louisville, is similarly unafraid of sharp explorations of his vulnerability in debut collection “The Trouble with Light” (Univ. of Arkansas Press; 80 pgs., $19.95). One particular pain and longing: to toss aside the pain brought on by step-father and fill some aching emptiness with knowing his father (“a name i’d never heard,/i tiptoed around its edges”).

“In the Hometown I’ve Tried to Love” is just one direct example of how Clark steps forward to reveal his personal vacillation — and then what it invokes in him, which is often a turn inward (“If it/takes two to be alone, I don’t know who I’d rather be: the one who stayed, or the one who walked away”).

But even more interesting is when his retreating eye catches an observation on the periphery. Clark succeeds in delivering such a fascinating program of vision for all phases of his life (so far, and I can only hope he continues). “Never Just One” delivers this as a meeting of a child’s roughened innocence that turns toward both shame and anger — along with some skin-crawling ickiness (due to headlice). Flood and fire, and escapes into temptation, along with familial fractiousness and violence and surviving by a thread — this poet brings his personal experiences and imaginatively constructed (but not fantastic) perceptions to vivid life — along with his old hometown.

Tuesday, May 7 at 6 p.m. Jeremy Michael Clark will be at Foxing Books (1314 Bluegrass Ave.) 6 p.m.. Also reading/signing there will be makalani bandele, Nabila Lovelace, and A.H. Jerriod Avant.