Mike James Reviews
By Ace Boggess
There are a few facts to consider in regards to Ace Boggess and his work. First fact: He spent five years in a West Virginia prison. This is a key part of his biography and a sometimes subject of his poems. (Poets serving prison time is nothing new. For famous examples, go all the way back to Villon or look recently at Etheridge Knight. Place Oscar Wilde, sad, strong, and fabulous, somewhere in between.)
The second fact is more important than a prison time blip. Reality for Boggess exists as a subject for poetry. Poetry is how he processes the world. He writes about traffic jams and family visits, awful jobs and bad lunches, historical artifacts and growing old all with the same high level of empathy, skill, and interest. Any subject might be “inspirational / even when it’s cruel.”
In one poem, he writes, “I’m a failure & a god.” That duality is clear throughout this collection. His speakers are often conflicted and pockmarked with guilt as if each is a “visionary weighted down from years of longing.” They are neglectful adult children who visit their fathers “as though preparing / for the last distance to come.” They are adults who watch teenagers “providing new ways to curse & regret.”
The title links the entire collection. All of the speakers are trying to escape something. They are running from memories or from bad jobs. All want what they don’t possess. More than greed, gluttony, pride, or lust, the characters within these poems are all defined by envy. They map situations by absences rather than inclusions.
In what might be the best poem in the collection, “You Salvaged What Was Left of Me,” Boggess outlines a life in 29 perfectly measured lines. He begins with a great opening, “The year I stopped caring.” Then he adds details of place, but throws in humor along the way. He writes, “It got so bad I started reading Sartre for fun.” Line-by-line the poem surprises. The ending is not cheap, easy, or expected.
Throughout the collection, Boggess enthralls the reader with his confident mastery. He is like Merlin doing card tricks. Samuel Johnson said that although he loved poetry, he seldom read all the way to the end of a poem. These are poems Dr. Johnson would finish reading. They are skillful, heartfelt, and real.
Escape Envy by Ace Boggess
Brick Road Poetry Press, 2021
About the Author: Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. He has published in numerous magazines, large and small, throughout the country. His 18 poetry collections include: Leftover Distances (Luchador), Parades (Alien Buddha), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), and Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), He has received multiple Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations.
More Reviews by Mike James:
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Mike James reviews “Dead Letter Office: Selected Poems” By Marko Pogacar
Mike James reviews Beautiful Aliens: A Steve Abbott Reader and Have You Seen This Man? The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney