Washington Independent Review of Books

February 2015 Exemplars: Poetry Reviews by Grace Cavalieri

Grace Cavalieri
February 23, 2015

A monthly feature that looks at books of and about poetry.
Really Happy by Jim Reese. NYQ Books. 76 pages.

Reese is a Professor of English, and Director of the Great Plains Writers Tour at Mount Marty College in Yankton South Dakota. He’s also a teacher/ NEA artist-in-residence in the Yankton Federal Prison Camp.

Whether writing about the classroom or listing bumper stickers in South Dakota, Reese changes this artificial world to a reality you wish would last after his last poem. Poetic sustenance comes from his kitchen, his drugstore; or on a local baseball diamond; and, somehow in these mundane spaces, he widens the opportunity for what a reader can feel. Reese proves that words have charisma, especially when physically preserved into story. This is because our author is a dreamer and tactician designing a rational universe for us so we’ll love his world as much as he does. There are hardships, of course, mysteries, disappointments, object lessons — but the poetry impacts because it comes from a passion for life. Reese refines the muddy daily process and creates a trail for us to follow, exploring the limits of human behavior along the way. He’s not interested in the existential so much — it’s the actual that he wants to puzzle into poetry. These pieces find him dancing with his daughter, finding a needle in the crotch of his jeans, or more profoundly overhearing prisoners talk of sunlight; yet, it is never retail poetry. The work is observational, soulful, sweet, sometimes searing. He’s written for you what you could not write for yourself.