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Review of Jim Bourey's The Distance Between Us

Jim Bourey’s The Distance Between Us, the poet’s second book, and first full length is rooted in the body, and love, eros. Between Us balances the warmth of congeniality and celebration to that of desire and loss, often entwined. Largely elegiac, Between Us is a collection bound not by subject, but by theme and tone, and Bourey’s comfortable moving between occasional form, snapshots, and longer free verse.

Written in three movements, Between Us opens with ekphrasis, “Distraction Prompted By Dali’s “Christ Of St. John Of The Cross”, in which the speaker longs for Mary Magdalene. The poem’s turn from the art, from Christ, you might even say, to playful lust toward Mary Magdalene, who represents the unattainable fantasy lover, to be worshipped, adored, both physically and spiritually, while keenly aware of the truth that it the love is unattainable, foolish even; this nuanced desire sets the tone for Between Us, a book very much rooted in erotic distraction. Not so much sex, mind you, but the sensual pleasures moments can give a person, or even eros in the wider sense, life energy.

Much of the poems in the first section are driven by physical exigency; bodies, lovers old and new populate the landscape. There is joy and celebration abound, and Between Us glows with warmth; there’s a congeniality to Bourey’s poems. But there’s darkness too, it lurks in the first section and becomes far more pronounced in section two where Bourey’s eye is trained on his past where he learned “to shoot people”; death and sex smash up against each other, and by the time Between Us moves into section three Bourey moves inward, as his body prepares for “the inevitable complete scattering”, the ego’s dissolution, the body’s disintegration. The final poems of Between Us remind the reader that families “fade away” as stone carvings on tombstones fade and weather, and that the earth cruelly denies mourning, especially in northern climates where the frozen earth keeps the recently dead from being interred, a morbid distraction, which like erotic distraction, is rooted in the body.  

Whether Bourey is writing about nature, or loss, Bourey’s voice floats us, warmly, and wise. The Bourey’s first full-length collection is available from Cold River Press.

Stephen Scott Whitaker (@SScottWhitaker) is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and the co-editor of The Broadkill Review.  Whitaker is a teaching artist with the Virginia Commission for the Arts, an educator, and a grant writer. Whitaker’s poems have appeared in Fourteen Hills, The Shore, Crab Creek Review, & The Citron Review, and other journals.  Mulch, a novel of weird fiction is forthcoming from Montag Press in 2021. 

Review of Jim Bourey's The Distance Between Us
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