Magazine article World Literature Today

Risk

Magazine article World Literature Today

Risk

Article excerpt

Tim Skeen. Risk. Buffalo, New York. White Pine Press. 2014. isbn 9781935210627

The poet who follows in the footsteps of the late Philip Levine, Tim Skeen, is the winner of the White Pine Press Poetry Prize for his second collection of poems (his first, Kentucky Swami, won the Ciardi Prize for Poetry). These fifty carefully crafted poems solidify Skeen's place in American poetry. As a poet originally from Kentucky and Ohio, now living in California, Skeen writes about working-class Americans who suffer, those who care about the environment, and the less fortunate who are ultimately rewarded. Most of these poems are in free verse, some in uniform stanzas or in long, loose stanzas, except for a prose poem and eleven sonnets. This collection does not have sections, but it has several themes.

Skeen elegizes his younger brother, Ernie, shot at a young age. The guilt that we feel when someone dies before we do never ends. What could we have done? we ask; and if we had not done it then, could we do it now? The two boys played with Tonka trucks in one poem, and in another, seeing his brother's solar calculator, he lists things his brother will not achieve. In another poem, Skeen cannot forget the sound of his brother's trombone and that "after he got shot [Skeen] wanted to sell / his [brother's] trombone or give it away or bury it with his body."

We can see his family's struggles: his thrifty mother cutting coupons, wanting to get a set of dishes after getting enough stamps from buying laundry detergent, "the promise of something for nothing"; his war-disabled grandfather watching Bonanza while remembering fighting the Kaiser in a U-boat; and his father buying an old "Zenith short wave radio" (even though it didn't work) that his parents "couldn't afford / when he was a kid. …

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