Churches by Kevin Prufer
Four Way Books, 2014; 87 pp
Reviewed by Daniel Heffner
Kevin Prufer’s sixth book, Churches, weaves narratives past and present into graceful, sprawling poems. Most poems in the book, such as the first one, “Potential Energy is Stored Energy,” use a split narrative structure. In that poem, the heat of bomb in train is juxtaposed with the heat of a fever in a baby. It is a powerful device and Prufer puts it to good use in the collection.
The book has a streak of the fantastic, as Prufer moves from guns on the moon to post-death out-of-body experiences to a post-apocalyptic story to a giant bird-god. But death also moves through these poems, particularly the death of a father, which features in several poems and is referred to in several others.
The human position in time and how we process time and memory time stood out to me: we are “balanced at the very tip of history / and behind us / everything speeds irretrievably away.” The split narratives in the poems suggest a sorting mechanism to me: how we contextualize new experience by drawing parallels (sometimes unexpected) with past experiences: “and now a cool wind blows / from a distant mountain // through the orange trees / into the past tense.”
But there’s much more at work in the collection. One of the book’s strengths is the variety of its poems. Though there are certainly themes and techniques that Prufer relies on, he approaches them in a variety of ways and intersperses poems that add texture.
One last note: “Auto-Wreck” is my favorite poem in this collection. Beautifully constructed around an incident that the speaker observes and imagines a context for, the contents of an abandoned plastic bag at an airport take on incredible importance. It’s an example of Prufer’s mastery of the split narrative—in this case, an old woman travelling to see her son in the hospital and the speaker travelling to see his brother in the hospital— this is the best argument I can think of for reading this book.