The Last Magician by Stephen Corey

This is another oldie I picked up second hand. It’s copyrighted 1987.

Stephen Corey’s poetry is the polar opposite of the last book of poetry I read by Bin Ramke. The poems are extremely accessible. They are homely, quiet poems, in the sense of being about everyday objects and activities written in simple language. About the only poem with any flash to it was a tribute/elegy to Virginia Woolf. From the middle stanza of the poem by the same name:

Waves always charged and whipped your senses,
waves of color, scent, sound, beauty,
waves in folds of a green silk dress.
You were the diamond shore of your world–
all waves roaring into you.

The magicians of the books are artisans and artists as well as the magicians we associate with the stage. The book has two sections, one titled “Crafts” and another “Loves.” The first section has poems about blacksmiths, weavers, quilters, etc, but also poets and dancers. I enjoyed his poem about “State Craft Fair: Berea, Kentucky”:

And always at your feet,
cut-rate bowls and mugs in crates–
even failure can be beautiful and watertight.

Though there are several enjoyable poems in this book, the most beautiful is “Softening the World by Your Body,” which begins with a quote by Deaf Smith from the Country Cookbook, “Knead the dough until it is ear lobe consistency.” The first two stanzas:

I roll each politician between my palms
until he changes from my elbow
to the inside of your wrist: rough, flaking skin
to a cool white untouched by sun.

I bake the borders of every country
until they are the two inch valley
from the base of your spine
down into the cleft of your buttocks–
a petal-soft mystery whose only secret
is that no beauty can fight against itself.

Though Corey’s poetry has appeal, most of the poems in this volume fail to take flight. I hate to let that Virginia Woolf poem go, but I’m going to turn this book loose at one of the local library book sales because its accessibility and tribute to the crafts has the potential to be appreciated by others here that probably rarely read poetry.

I would happily grab up a later collection of his work.


About jppoetryreader

Poetry reviewer and poetry consultant for libraries
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