Book Review — Study for Necessity

Study for Necessity by Joellen Kwiatek

<i>Study for Necessity</i> by Joellen Kwiatek is her second published collection of poetry. Kwiatek is a professor in the English department at SUNY Oswego, Oswego, NY. She is the winner of the 2014 Iowa Poetry Prize.

I look forward every year to the reading the collection that won the Iowa Poetry Prize. I see it as the high water mark for the year in poetry. The collections are always excellent or, as last year’s choice, very challenging. My background is not in poetry or even literature, but I do appreciate good poetry. My review is not going to be as flowery or as educated as the judges views for this collection, but rather as seen from an educated outsider.

A poet’s work is one of those things you know you are going to like or dislike very early on in the reading. I knew I was going to like Kwiatek from the opening lines of her first poem “Sea Below Rocks.”

What does the sea see–? Something awful. It has the roving
thwarted glance of a mare in blinders, something awful facing her stall.

I immediately caught the obvious sea and see and then found glance (see) and mare (Latin for sea). I knew then, intentional or not, this was going to be a great collection. Throughout the collection phrases seemed to leap out at me “a stone calved from the underworld” and the “radium of twilight.” The word usage and imagery is outstanding. Line breaks create different meanings A horse that ran out into the field is “Home” but the next line begins “less”. There are several creative breaks in the line structure that take the meaning in different directions.

Poetry is difficult for an outsider to review. Bad or mediocre poetry is easy to pick apart and leads to longer reviews exposing poets trying too hard or even “cutesy” themes. Good and great poetry collections tend to get short reviews from me. They say everything they need to say, and say it so it clicks in my mind as “Exactly!” Although I understand clearly what is being said, I have difficulty repeating it in my own words. It seems that the poet delivers something so perfect, I don’t have the words to describe it myself.  That is what I believe the essence of poetry is and this collection is one of those cases. Outstanding.

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