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Susan Tepper's Confess, reviewed by Rusty Barnes

Susan Tepper
 21 pages
Cervena Barva Press

Susan Tepper's Confess is a small intimate gathering of reflective poems from Cervena Barva Press published in 2020. One of the many problems with collecting a group of poems is that you have to decide if you want a book with some unity, not a miscellany. Miscellanies are all right, certainly, and they comprise most books of poetry printed today, but you want another unifying factor. The title CONFESS  lends itself to the illusion of forward momentum. What is the narrator confessing, and to what end?

"I come to you broken/have been trying to say/all that is not the way/it shows on the surface," the narrator says opening the first poem. They follow this statement up with a nostalgic description of an old photo as an illustration of exactly how broken they are, with the placid surfaces of the photo's subjects--Victorian women--undermined by the fact that the narrator has baldly told us they're broken to begin with. And the questions begin: broken by what? An interesting enigmatic opening move.

Many of these poems move by quickly--they're generally short--yet that consistency of mood prevails as show in this masterful short piece midway through:

Part & Parcel

Close the shutters
Allow darkness to rip
Your eyes in tide pools.

Two suitcases, side by sided,
Have yet to be unpacked.

Excuses, elaborations
Does this mean we won't stay long?

You're flattened by so many roads
I am stung and run over.

Two suitcases: it's been written
Part & Parcel by your own hand.

The minimal punctuation allows the poem to be read at a sort of angry breakneck speed, which fits it well.. While in most cases, I'd like the poet to direct my attention more, the deft use of impactful  verbs throughout rip and flatten a reader as well as speed up the poem. The art of the short line in evidence here is commendable as well.

Finally I'd like to talk about the larger question of the poem, what the narrator is confessing, and to what end. We often think of confession as something with a religious sense, with the end result being forgiveness for our sins. Or the more broadly confessional scene of the dark night wherein we confess our deepest secrets to the ones we love in the hope of gaining mutual understanding.  Or, the professional  confines of the purely therapeutic confession, where the box of antiseptic tissues is always available for emotional leavings, or even, in these Covid-19 times, the group therapy confessional of the, God help us, Zoom conference. What is Tepper's narrator confessing? My guess is a combination of these things. The poems don't strive for meaning but rather gather round and create an overarching theme: mortality. Which is what all poems come down to anyway.


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Amy Holman is the author of the collection, Wrens Fly Through This Opened Window (Somondoco Press, 2010) and four chapbooks, including the prizewinning Wait for Me, I’m Gone (Dream Horse Press, 2005). Recent poems have been in or accepted by Blueline, concis, Gargoyle, The Westchester Revie…


No Mote
black swans i almost didnt see
but for their glowy beaks
red as sumac- they didnt match
the dark tones of lake, stuck out
like your lust for me while i read to
the children all cloistered- who could
hear me even from the colonnade,
all hickory and hops-vine, where
i saw you watch me from inside
a white willow tree.

mergansers with their heads trailing
swam among dead stakes of lotus.
that belted kingfisher bode us a
good day, and returned the
children to their cages below bald
cypress knees so naked i had
to look away.

you willowed no longer, i took leaf to mean wing, and feather to mean ivy. i took a shaded path back
to the armory. it got hot and thick
and i could breathe more heavily,
rapt on high, no mote of hope.

Bree is a poet and visual artist living in Pleasureville, KY. Her Green Panda Press has put out hand-made chapbooks, anthologies and sundry of the very small art and poetry press since 2001. In 2015 she began Least Bittern Books out of Henry County, KY with a focus on poetry paperbacks b…

June Poem Reviews

I've had fiction and non-fiction reviews published in quite a few journals and have been a member of the National Book Critics Circle, when I could afford it. Therefore, I feel quasi-professional in those arenas. I don't necessarily feel that way about my poetry reviews. I have opinions, though, and in the interest of keeping my poetry-mind occupied during an otherwise stressful time in my life, I'd like to make you, the poetry world, an offer. If you mail me your chapbook or book--at least 24 pages but no more than 100 pages, self-published or traditional--I will post a review of between 150 and 300 words about it, as professionally as I can, in the following months. Promise. Mail me your book, get a review. Easy. If I get a huge response, I'll declare a cap and communicate it here. I would prefer to work from print copies. I hate reading poetry in PDF or MOBI--my preferred methods for prose--because the lines never break correctly and I find myself critiquing lineati…