Suzanne Cleary, author of Trick Pear and Keeping Time, and winner of a Pushcart Prize has recently published her newest collection of poems, Beauty Mark. This collection, released in winter 2013, received instant recognition by winning the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry.
Beauty Mark grapples with life’s moments of the immortal self, garden varieties of love and spirituality in a refreshing way. The divine intersects with popular culture in “Televangelists” in lines such as “the gold brocade armchairs with gilt armrests, / dear God, a tempest of waste, of bad taste.” These connections also become intensely personal as Cleary writes about her own family’s intersects with spirituality. In “Holy Water” the speaker recounts her grandmother’s relationship with Catholicism, “touching just her fingertips / to the ordinary water / blessed by the priest.” Cleary’s exploration of culture and its engagement with religion is intricately complicated in both aforementioned poems. Without ever directly questioning the institution of religion Cleary allows her speakers to navigate the territory of tradition and society.
In the poem “Beauty Mark” Cleary continues to question social ideals. This poem attempts to find beauty outside of “A small brown dot, most usually / upon a woman’s cheek or lip.” This mark becomes symbolic of beauty being able to transcend physicality, “a beauty mark meant – we can never know – to enhance / the skin’s beauty or to conceal its imperfections.”
Denise Duhamel says it best when she states, “Don’t hate her because she writes beautiful poems.” Cleary’s poems are not overly cautious when examining the world. Her poems successfully call attention toward the familial, the past and the present.
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Sarah Cooper is a recent graduate of Converse College’s MFA program. Currently she lectures at Clemson University and spends her free time experimenting in the culinary arts and crossfitting. She serves as an Assistant Poetry Editor for South85 Journal.