Reviews, Vol. 3.4, Dec. 2009
Paperback, 56 pp., $13
A blurb review by Cynthia Reeser
The deceptively titled State Sonnets by editor and professor B.J. Best is his fourth chapbook; I say deceptively titled, because most of the poems include or somehow reference the titles to states, while others concern Canadian provinces (and in one case, a U.S. territory). Each poem is presumably written about a different woman—one for every state (or Canadian province, or U.S. territory).
Misleading title aside, Best makes variable use of the sonnet form. Rhyme is sometimes used effectively, sometimes as a crutch. The sonnet form itself is varied, sometimes given stanza breaks where traditionally none are present, which, in itself, is not necessarily a detriment. The collection begins with “Puerto Rico,” which is over-alliterated with a cliché ending (“this was before i knew how things cleave apart / this was before i knew what’s programmed in the heart.”) Others, like “Kentucky,” are more successful.
Stand-out pieces include “The Wild Tour of Wind Cave, South Dakota,” which is effective in language and in its use of the cave as a symbol of death and rebirth (however, that symbol is certainly nothing new); “Kentucky”; “Mead Lake, Wisconsin,” where the language is effective (“the difference between prayer and wishing / is thin as fishes”); and “Sterling, Colorado,” which is the strongest in terms of movement, enjambment, and use of language.
Overall, the premise ends up being gimmicky and predictable. This collection is perhaps ideal for appreciators of poetry that is more traditional—in terms of form, subject matter, rhyme, metaphor, and overall thematic elements.