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Flashbacks: Echoes of Past Issues


burial ground, which reminds me a bit of Robert Frost’s “Directive.” There are many triumphs here, but the book’s last poem has especially lingered in my mind. “Articles of Faith” is part litany, part prayer (perhaps all litanies are prayers?) – a mantra made of visionary moments. “Has dark a garden? What’s given is complete, if only / in our unseeing,” says the poet, bringing image after image, animal after animal, silence after silence back through memory and music, into a final ecstasy of song. But all of this book’s pastorals, odes, and ekphrastic poems are products of an extraordinary gaze lighting up ordinary subjects. There’s a particular nobility here, in the way Adcock tends always to work through affliction toward blessing – which is what Applewhite does as well, his head in the clouds, hers in the earth. This is poetry for the ages. n PHOTOGRAPH BY ELLEN FRANKS; COURTESY OF NCLR

as when the poet looks back on an almost mythical East Texas childhood, for instance, or when meditating on her marriage of over fifty years to the jazz musician she fell in love with at seventeen. The book’s central section consists of her deeply moving Widow Poems.2 It might be fair to read these poems – clearly the central achievement of the poet’s mature work – as an extended meditation on what lasts and doesn’t last. Often, as in “Vulpine,” the drama centers on otherworldly encounters in the aftermath of her loss – with a fox or a butterfly, for instance – such “beauty, perhaps, / which may be holy and once only / and all we have.” All of this poet’s stories are so unforgettable, in fact, that her verse can seem almost artless. Adcock’s poetry seems to me the perfect example of Yeats’s casual admonishment in “Adam’s Curse” when he says, “if it does not seem a moment’s thought, / Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.”3 And when Adcock uses traditional form in this remarkably varied book, it’s as fresh as if she grew it in her own back yard. There are poems in rhymed quatrains and variations of blank verse, but more often the formal devices are assimilated into cascading free verse that begs to be scanned, its metrical pulse as certain as a sonnet’s. And, speaking of sonnets, here is the sestet from Adcock’s marvelous sonnet, “Hold”:


Tenacious, tentacled, altogether determined material spirit: bare hands of the oak tree, fist of the thunder, little feet of the lizard, all vying, vying – though none of these can hold, not summer’s golden sway, nor winter’s play on this: us, dying.

Look, I’d love to go on and on about this poem, its surreal mix of violence and tenderness, the surprise and force of alliteration, slant and internal rhymes that hold such tension in place so assuredly yet so unexpectedly. I’m also a huge fan of “Survivals,” a poem about a traditional East Texas


Widow Poems was first published by Jacar as a chapbook in 2014; some of the poems from this collection were published in NCLR 2017.


Yeats’s “Adam’s Curse” is from In the Seven Woods (Dun Emer, 1904).

BETTY ADCOCK served as writer-in-residence at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC, for two decades, held a teaching residency at Duke University, and has twice held visiting professorships in the MFA Program at NC State University. The recipient of two Pushcart Prizes, a Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, a 2002 Guggenheim Fellowship, and the North Carolina Award for Literature, the poet was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 2014. She is the author of eight poetry collections. Her poems have appeared in NCLR 1996, 1997, 2009, and 2017. Read an interview with her in NCLR 2009.

Profile for East Carolina University

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.