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Authors: Tim Skeen
Series: White Pine Press Poetry Prize
The book of poetry Risk by Tim Skeen features people in precarious situations, humanized and sometimes loved, living with the choices they’ve made or the choices that have been made for them. Some of the poems are about the risks we all take by venturing in to relationships, marriage, and having children. Others bring us risk-taking few of us have engaged in or witnessed the results of—police work, the after effects of having been in war, the despair of not being able to save the stranger nor one’s own brother from ignoble death. Featured too are the lesser risks inherent in living lower on the economic ladder—the broken down cars, the bad-luck lives, the body gouged by physical labor, being the ones wiped out by disaster, natural and otherwise, needing assistance to move the paltry contents of their lives from one space to another. All is not gloom though, as in the poems a laborer looks determinedly toward college, a daughter calms the pain of a lost brother, the out-of-rhythm lover eventually embraces marriage and parenthood, a mother deprived on earth is sated in heaven, a painter takes time for art on the brink of war. From industrial northern Ohio to small town Appalachia to military police patrol in Hanau, Germany, from Orleans Parish after Katrina, to the sunny San Joaquin Valley of California, Skeen brings us tales of survival and resiliency. “Skeen is a skilled writer—direct and clear, a partisan of accessibility and heartbreak,” says writer Michael Collier of Skeen’s previous work.
Tim Skeen, who won the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry in 2001 for his book Kentucky Swami, coordinates the MFA Program in Creative Writing at California State University, Fresno. A graduate of the Ph.D. Program in Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, his poems appear in many journals and magazines. He lives in Fresno with his wife, Pam, and daughter, Iris.
“Tim Skeen’s Risk is a poetic autobiography played out on a kaleidoscopic panorama of history. His poems document a working-class childhood in Kentucky and Ohio, the loss of a brother, a mother’s face “as hard and bright as Formica,” and they detail the unexpected gift of a comfortable middle age in California, “where / even convertibles make sense.” Sandwiched between these two long intervals were three years of duty in a peacetime Army, a period he describes in poems of searing intensity and immense power. With biting irony he admits to “feeling nostalgic for the Cold War, for an enemy you could / look in the eye and ask, Are you the enemy?” Skeen inhabits a world where personal and collective histories collide, where “the parked cars / will always seem so dangerous they could kill you.” His poems document a full complement of enemies—poverty, ignorance, violence and plain bad luck—the risks that dog him and the ones he loves. Danger is everywhere, and like the sergeant who screams, “You can never be ready for combat! // You can only be prepared!,” Skeen moves through the world with equal parts wariness and gratitude, convinced, as he says in “Driving a 1955 Buick,” that by “keeping it / on the road you will find your way.””
“To witness, to cherish our time on the planet, to speak memorably of and with great attention to our lives, is what our best poetry has always done. Tim Skeen’s Risk holds the details of the past up to the light of the present with an eye that rescues American life mid-century—Zenith, Oxydol, Bonanza, S&H Green Stamps, Mail Pouch barns, World War II, Aldo Ray, a ’55 Buick, the Cold War, the board game Risk. Every detail, every image is emblematic and resonates; the voice and music here are exact. Most importantly, each poem risks the clarity necessary to discover the meaning of who we have become.”
“A compelling journey through a landscape defined by loss and struggle and quiet persistence in the working class America of the 1960 and 70s. Much of this collection takes place in memory, and the early death of a brother inhabits the book all the way through, seeming, at times, to light the path. “I recall the sound of his breath slipping through that trombone,” the speaker says at one point, suggesting both the deep loss of “breath slipping,” and the unexpected music created by that recollection. These are poems of profound acknowledgment, rather than resignation or regret, and Skeen’s speaker accepts this life with wonder and curiosity. Skeen’s precise, lyrical language shows us how we carry on with grief as our companion, and how we can sometimes experience extraordinary love and joy along the way. You “make a deal/ with yourself to get through it,” he writes, “and that deal/is made of music and words and luck.””
—Corrinne Clegg Hales
|$16.00||80 pages (Original Trade Paperback)||ISBN: 978-1-935210-62-7||2014|