James Bourey reviews Ace Boggess
Escape Envy: Poems
By Ace Boggess
Brick Road Poetry Press
ISBN – 13: 978-1-950739-02-8
Ace Boggess is not a new voice in poetry. This is his sixth book of poems, his third from Brick Road Press. And Mr. Boggess has also published two novels. If you look him up on Google (as I did) you’ll learn that he’s an ex-con who served five years in a West Virginia prison. You’ll also learn that he has a B.A. from Marshall University and a J.D. from West Virginia University. This is a wide range of credentials from a smart, seasoned and respected author. But if you want to know the deeper side of this author you need only read Escape Envy, a collection of sixty-one poems, all of them finely crafted explorations into a unique poetic life.
The opening poem in the first of the three parts of this collection is I Was Heading for Georgia but Saw the Sunrise, and it is exemplary of Boggess’s ability to capture a moment in a direct and detailed way: “as the Interstate dripped down the side/ of a high-top at five percent grade” and “… a silk line of mist/ red & orange set along the fog’s plane/ like stemless blooms of roses…” and at the end “on into North Carolina where/ it might as well be raining & it was.” The poet brings movement and natural surroundings, as well as an emotional undercurrent, in language that is beautiful yet without false fussiness. We start our journey through these poems riding along with the poet. And we quickly learn that he is a very fine traveling companion.
We meet some of the poet’s family members, friends and acquaintances. With him we visit interesting places from his dark past and more recent free-wheeling present. And through his most observant mind we see these people and places from a new and enlightening perspective.
There is a decidedly good-humored tone in most of the poems, often reflected in titles like My Father’s Hearing Aid Broke, and As A Passenger in a Golf Cart Searching for Alligators Inside a Gated Community and Why I Can’t Have Superpowers and The Dream Turned Religious Right Before I Woke. But the humor is not flippant, just an honest reflection of the point of view of a person who has seen much and realizes life is often a funny business.
Though Mr. Boggess has been out of prison for a long time he often returns there in his poems. These reflections show how he has gained some distance from those years while the sharpness of his imagery makes each memory immediate and completely honest. Prison memory poems are scattered throughout the collection, gradually bringing the reader to a better understanding of the scars the poet carries from his time inside. The Chaplains Guitar is a particularly poignant example as it opens with The cons never sang like cons in old movies,/ a sickly sorrowful melody… and then moves to the more directly personal with permission I’d go to the education room/ where for an hour I could strum chords and then to the intensity of the final stanza that starts Its rusted strings promised me freedom/ minutes at a time, hum thrumming/ from that holiest hole… and moves on to a deeply personal finish in simple language that bares the poet’s memory of hopeless loneliness.
But there is much more to this collection. Mr. Boggess explores family relationships, social issues, his views on poetry, philosophy and religion, and love and death. Every poem has an unobtrusive attention to craft. Changes in mood and attitude seem to flow easily though there are sudden jumps in subject matter. From a wry observation on poets and poetry in Lunch with the Poet Laureate to a jab at pointless nostalgia in Two Tickets to Mountain Stage to a sharp, sympathetic observation of a river and the people who populate its shores in The Kanawha we are treated, in just three poems, to humor and then a fatalistic view on aging, followed by a fine use of a river metaphor as a social issue commentary. Each poem has a different mood. Each poem has more than one level and every level is worthy of consideration. And so it goes throughout the collection.
Good poetry is always suitable for reading again and again. We return to certain poems, or collections of poems, and we find new ways of looking at our world through the eyes and language of the poet. This collection is one with that kind of value and I’ll be going back to its already dogeared pages often. And it can certainly enrich your bookshelves as well. Check it out.
Jim Bourey is an old poet who divides his time between the northern Adirondack Mountains and Dover, DE. His chapbook “Silence, Interrupted” was published in 2015 by The Broadkill River Press and won first place for poetry chapbook in the Delaware Press Association writing competition. His work has appeared in Mojave River Review, Stillwater Review, Blue Nib, Paddock Review, Broadkill Review, and other journals and anthologies. He is also a regular contributor of book reviews for The Broadkill Review. He has been an adjudicator for Delaware Poetry Out Loud and can often be found reading aloud in dark rooms.