A reader would never say all critically-acclaimed new poetry is difficult if he or she had read Spencer Reece. His first volume, The Clerk's Tale, has undoubtedly been a success: it won the famed Bakeless Prize for poetry, and The New Yorker ran the title poem as the back cover of a recent issue.
But no poems could be further from high-flown modernism and showoffy post-modernism than these soft-spoken, unpretentious poems, which gradually comprise his biography: a chaotic childhood, leave-takings from beloved places, his later vocation as assistant manager of a Brooks Brothers store in a Florida mall, an emotional breakdown related in his original, meditative voice:
"outside it was summer
the sky endless a glassed-off beautiful Bermuda blue
the day was a sea I could no longer swim in
." ("United Hospital")
This is the speech of a man who only speaks when something needs to be said, and then warmly, humanely, revealing his essential secrets in an understated manner:
"Down here the lonely claim my voice and make it strong." ("Florida Ghazals")
He writes of gay loneliness so that it is not different from any loneliness, and looking for an affordable place to live is an Everyman's search; he avoids grandiosity, self-pity and embellishments that would flag his experience as extraordinary. The poems in The Clerk's Tale constitute a moving tale of an ordinary person on a patient quest for a reasonable degree of happiness. When it is found, he is celebrates in his restrained style:
"it was time to dance with joy
the Mississippi glittered and listened
the skyscrapers cooled and listened" ("Minneapolis")
Every reader can identify with his weariness after a long day at work:
"We are changed when the transactions are done -
older, dirtier, dwarfed.
A few late customers gawk at us
This is the Mall of America." ("The Clerk's Tale")
Reece's knowledge of the modern poetry canon is subtle but evident, but the obscurity, displays of erudition, classical references, twisted syntax and occult visions found in so much of it he avoids like the plague, in favor of understandable lines that, while they are masterfully crafted, resemble a conversation one might have on a long train ride. When the journey is over, one feels a loss; Spencer Reece leaves the reader wanting more.