I am thrilled to introduce you to the latest addition to the Charleston poetry scene, the gifted and brilliant young poet Bryan Penberthy, who was recently named the winner of the National Poetry Review Book Prize for his manuscript "Lucktown."
Sponsored by the National Poetry Review Press, the prize is given annually for an unpublished book-length collection of poetry, and offers publication as well as a cash award. In addition to the National Poetry Review Book Prize, "Lucktown" was named a finalist for the T.S. Eliot Prize in Poetry and an honorable mention in the Stevens Manuscript Competition.
It is no surprise that "Lucktown" has received so many honors. The fact that it is Bryan's first book is especially exciting. A refreshingly original collection of poems about metaphorical places inhabited by the poet, "Lucktown" is at once about nowhere in particular and everywhere you have ever been or hope to go.
The poet comments on this theme throughout the book with lines such as "I can't believe I live anywhere." "Towns can't make sense." "We're only as real/as the landscape that shifts around us." "I wish I knew/what drew me to places like this, people/I can tell stories about, true or not."
The poem's titles generally end with the word "town," and the list will give you a sense of this wonderfully quirky collection of poems: Lucktown, Tigertown, Dreamtown, Pooltown, Bartown, Hometown, Expatriatetown, Oceantown, Lovetown and so on.
These towns are not literally places, of course, but they embody the sense of place in specific ways creating universal associations for readers.
The poem "Oceantown," for example, begins with a sentence that perfectly describes what if feels like to look out at the sea, which seems boundless:
Love, the water's skin is an endless bolt
of fabric, a fine-threaded garment of glass
and azure, a mute sheet undulating above
an infinite weight.
"Oceantown" is obviously a love poem. It evokes the enormity of all the emotions that come with being in love, and is a great example of how Penberthy associates the literal sense of the ocean with the interior emotional landscape of the human heart. The sheer range of the poems contained in "Lucktown" is impressive in all ways. The subject matter, tone and style vary tremendously.
Humor, grief and a sense of wonder all have their place in this book. Taken as a whole, the collection is enormously satisfying and offers the kind of wisdom we hope to find in a book of poems. There's a line in the poem "Smoketown" that speaks to the aspirations of this collection and embodies the yearning that lies at the center of our hearts. The line "to find out what makes the world burn" evokes universal forces of destruction, as well as the timeless forces of healing and love.
Penberthy asks the big questions in ways we might not have considered or even imagined. Penberthy will be reading poems from "Lucktown" at 8 p.m. Oct. 8 at Monday Night Blues, which is Charleston's longest-running weekly literary event. Monday Night Blues is at The East Bay Meeting House, 159 East Bay St. Open mike follows (sign-up at 8 p.m.) Admission is free.