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Rerun: Huener on McFee & Bathanti

Saturday Review: “Spreading Awe: Childhood and Heritage in New Poetry” a review by Sarah Huener
Joseph Bathanti. The 13th Sunday after Pentecost. 2017.
Michael McFee. We Were Once Here. 2017.

Over the summer, we’re sharing some reruns of older book reviews for authors whose latest work is recently published or will be out soon.

UNC professor Michael McFee and Appalachian State professor Joseph Bathanti both have new poetry collections coming out. In 2018, Sarah Huener reviewed their last books. She wrote, “The latest books of poems from Michael McFee and Joseph Bathanti explore this formative time and the insights it produced both then and after several intervening decades. These are two poets with distinctive voices, voices that observe their youth, but which are also wiser than the past selves we meet within their pages.”

In We Were Once Here, McFee writes about childhood in western NC. Huener calls out “McFee’s descriptive power is at its best in this book; for example, the end of “Roadside Table”
sounds like it could be the closing sentence of the Great American Novel:

as cousins skipped flat rocks to the far bank
or waded on shivering legs into the river
and cigarette smoke rose toward the understory
and the ripening barrels hummed electric with bees
and watermelon seeds shone blackly under the laurels.

I can’t think of a better description of growing up in twentieth-century, rural America. The details speak for themselves.”

Bathanti’s The 13th Sunday After Pentecost is divided into three sections, corresponding roughly to the poet’s childhood, middle years, and then adulthood with aging parents. Huener comments: “Life being the subjective creature it is, the struggle between synchronicity and meaning is a familiar one as we see in Bathanti’s “The 13th Sunday after Pentecost” poem:

I smoked cigarettes and set fires,
studied stolen pictures of naked women,
dreamt of being loved forever.
The Dodgers beat the Yankees
four straight in the World Series.

It could not have happened other than it did: the day on the Table of Moveable Feasts, the television
special on abortion, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s recent speech coexist necessarily. It’s as if correlation and causation are commingled with association and signification.” Such complexity is no surprise from one of NC’s poet laureates.

How lucky their students are to learn from such creative professors; how lucky are we that we get to read new work by them this summer.

Read the rest of the review in the ‘18 Online issue.