Finding what is in poems

Welcome to a new yet familiar reviewer, Kathryn Milam. Years ago, when I edited the book-review page for the Winston-Salem Journal, I was always pleased when Kathryn contributed a review. A writer herself, she’s an insightful reader. Then she moved away, and, later, the Journal discontinued its locally written/edited adult book-review page.

Now Kathryn’s back, not that she needs to be in Winston-Salem to contribute to a book blog. But we’ve reconnected, and here’s her debut review for Briar Patch Books.

By Kathryn Milam.

IN THE PALMS OF ANGELS. By Terri Kirby Erickson. Press 53.107 pages. $14.95

An insidious fear infuses many Americans. It has nothing to do with the economy or health care, education or politics, war or terrorists. This fear was instigated in grade school, propagated in high school and nurtured as we grew older. Its culmination has deprived us of a balm capable of soothing all other fears.

This fear is metrophobia, the fear of poetry.

Now in maturity, many of us are looking for deeper insight and have turned to poems despite our fear.

The great poet William Carlos Williams wrote, “It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack/ of what is found there.”

In our search for what is found there, we stumble upon Terri Kirby Erickson, a North  Carolina writer, whose poems offer understanding and answers, both literal and metaphorical. Her gentle work can quell our metrophobia.

Ericksonʼs new collection, In the Palms of Angels, chronicles the fundamentals and rituals of everyday life and everyday people with clarity, perception and attention to detail. Her subject matter ranges from biscuit-making to breast cancer, cling peaches to suicide, boogie-woogie to aging parents. What makes each poem notable, whether serious or light-hearted, is Ericksonʼs ability to convey the essential meaning of commonplace events.

Take the poem “Sponge Bath.” A daughter bathes her elderly mother, a mundane routine repeated throughout the world each day. But Erickson elevates that experience from ordinary to extraordinary in a few phrases:

my mother’s hand

becomes a cloud, and every bruise, a rain-

drenched flower.

She acknowledges the ugly, thin-skinned bruising of the old woman’s arm, yet finds beauty in the signs of aging and impending death. She recognizes the protective presence of the daughter’s hands, symbolic of the care between generations.

Story poems are some of my favorites, especially if they are humorous with a surprising twist. “Denise and Merle” is one such poem.

Two women work at the corner pharmacy. One night, when they are on duty alone, the store is robbed. Erickson describes these characters and the situation in a few lines and leads her readers to an unexpected end. Here is a snippet:


Merle heard the lock turn in the back room and saw

the robberʼs panicked expression, she was shocked

beyond belief that her own flesh and blood would

abandon her to the mercy of an armed bandit ready

to snap at any minute and riddle the place with bullets.

Canʼt you picture Merle, astonished as she faces down the man with the gun?

I could continue with lists of remarkable poems and vivid images, but why donʼt you see for yourself? Whether you approach this book with trepidation or read poetry daily, youʼll want to take “In the Palms of Angels” to your front porch swing and spend a few summer afternoons luxuriating in Ericksonʼs words.

Perhaps, one cold day next winter, her images will return to you in warm and wonderful ways. Youʼll pull the book from your shelf and read with delight. Then youʼll know youʼve begun to unravel the meaning of William Carlos Williamsʼ observation. And youʼll realize, once and for all, that youʼve conquered any vestiges of metrophobia.

Terri Kirby Erickson

One response to “Finding what is in poems”

  1. I think Terri is a remarkable poet. I have the book and love the rhythms and images and surprises in the poems.

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