Monday, October 26, 2009

Review: A Brief History of Time

As I have stated in other posts, one of my goals of this blog is to review and help promote poetry books. I often talk with readers and literature-type people who say they don't read much contemporary poetry because they don't always know where to find it and what to read, which I can understand. It is hard to find contemporary poetry in most bookstores, which is why I buy most of my books online. In the last few years I have tried my best to gain as much knowledge of contemporary poetry as possible, and I try to read as many books as I can and tell people about them. 

In this post I am reviewing Shaindel Beers' A Brief History of Time. It was published this year by Salt Publishing and is her debut collection. I found out about this book and about Beers on Twitter. I have to say I'm surprised constantly by how useful Twitter has been to my poetry knowledge, networking, and promotion. I have been following Beers for a few months and recently decided to purchase her book and I'm so glad I did.

A Brief History of Time is beautifully written and constantly surprises. I connected a lot to the speaker of many of these poems, because I am from the midwest and these poems are very grounded in the experiences of middle-America. I lived for 22 years in Indiana and fully understood such lines as: "you left, too afraid of being trapped / in a cornfield town / to wait for me" or "in our own little utopia / ten miles further than our mothers got." 

There is an overwhelming sadness in many of these poems, but they are not overly dramatic, but rather contain a quiet, haunting sadness that feels very real to life. Many of the poems touch on similar themes and build off of each other. For example the death of a former lover is the backdrop in many of the poems and reading them altogether gives a true window into grieving and moving onward. 

The poem entitled "HA!" literally made me gasp at the end. It's a harsh look at employees at a Dollar General and rapidly paints portraits of various people. This poem stood out to me because it is exactly why I love contemporary poetry. I'll say it again, it takes place in a Dollar General. How amazing is that? This is the kind of poem I love showing my students, because they have no idea that people write poems about Dollar Stores. It is also a perfect example of compression and of being able to fully showcase these characters and this situation in a page and a half. 

One of my other favorite poems in this book is entitled "In the Top Drawer." It is the kind of poem I immediately re-read. I got to the last line and had to go right back to the top and read it again. This poem really shows how surprising this book is. It begins with the speaker recounting a story of rabbits that died when she was young and then the speaker connects them to the death of this man later in life. The poem weaves these two situations together so nicely. 

I've read many books set in the same kind of landscape that Beers is dealing with, which is why this book shocked me so much. Many of these mid-west, cornfield-type books feel very stereotypical, but Beers' approach to these places, people, and situations is unique. She balances the insider/outsider feeling very well, and this is something I greatly commend and again connect with. 

I highly recommend reading this book and letting Beers take you on this brief, but poetically engaging, journey. 

-Stephen (Reviewer) 


  1. Hey Joe, thanks for the review. I, too, am a fan of Beers. You can read my review at