Instant Winner by Carrie Fountain
Penguin, 2014; 74 pp
Reviewed by Mark Allen Jenkins


Carrie Fountain’s first book Burn Lake considered landscape, change, transition from childhood to adulthood, history. Her second collection, Instant Winner considers, among other things, motherhood, parenting, domestic space, faith, and teaching.

Like Burn Lake, her second collection has poetic sequences spread between other poems and sections. Thirteen poems titled Prayer (for example, “Prayer (Easy)” Prayer (Rinsed),” “Prayer (Snap),” “Prayer (Impossible)”) make up one sequence. These poems are not prayer in the strict sense, but instead feel like meditations. “Prayer (Rinsed)” explores time, feeling its passage and effects, “By now I feel rinsed/ by time, by what//can happen and what can’t happen.” Rinsed becomes a way of articulating an otherwise difficult concept to describe. Another looser sequence has poems titles that begin with “Poem” (“Poem without New Years Resolutions,” Poem Without Sleep” “Poem Saying No”).

Many poems in the collection also establish a boundary of some kind (“Surprise,” “Yes,”). The speaker in “Surprise” is weary of trying to impress others: “I don’t want to teach you anything/ or show you my wound or have you taste/ the amazing thing I made this morning” and also recognizes the impossible distance between past and present “I guess there isn’t going to be a time when I live like I lived that summer, in Santa Fe, that summer-into-fall/ I’ve for so long told myself I will someday/ return to.” Not only does change seem part of her experience, but also something she wishes she could somehow fight against.

While the collection’s many themes are not new or unique to Fountain, her consideration of them is regularly unique and fresh, which makes me appreciate poems in this collection I wouldn’t necessarily think I like based on their subject matter, which for me is a quality of worthwhile poetry.