EAGLE & PHENIX by Nick Norwood. Snake Nation Press, 2019. 72pp. $15.00. ISBN 978-0-9979-3534-9
Reviewed by Carole Mertz Nick
Norwood teaches creative writing at Columbus State University and directs the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians in Columbus, Georgia, and Nyack, New York. He’s the author of several poetry collections, including one produced as a limited edition in collaboration with the artist Erika Adams. In Eagle & Phenix, we find narrative poems, all but one written in free verse. The collection evokes lost times, lost places, and the will toward betterment. The spaces the author inhabits are places in his personal history (the childhood, the racing home after school to skirt school bullies, walking the Tar Road) and the town’s history (the closed-down cotton mill in Columbus, Georgia, and the now decontaminated Chattahoochee River.) His poems traverse fields where men sweat swinging bales of hay, the burnt-out warehouses and empty shacks, the muscle-armed men with grease stains standing before their workbenches, and spaces above the river where the eagle flies. We discover a very American quality in the images in this collection, the way Norwood brings us close to the earth, close to the efforts men made, and the way, with the closing of the mills, our country has moved on. In the opening section of Eagle & Phenix, we see the childhood scenes. Norwood’s use of alliteration makes “Orientation” particularly rewarding with such phrases as “[The sunlight] glosses the cowhides and silvers grass under its glare” and “red clay as clear as a trail of blood.” In “Shetland,” the only rhymed poem, the narrator comes face to face with Shorty, the family horse. He was a rough beast, I a skittish child. But for once, now, we two were reconciled … SPRING/SUMMER 2020 127 In Part II, the poet “visits” family members, including great-grandmother and great-grandfather. These poems are written in memoriam and enhance the historical quality of the collection. “Aunt Sue” depicts an independent spirit who moved out West. (“… you stayed, / 900 miles from family and friends, / became vice president of the local bank / and lived alone on the outskirts of town”). Also in Part II, breathless moments occur in “In a Deer Stand with My Daughter”: A crow caws like a circus barker. Again. Again. Then flies off. I lift my binoculars, and lo, there he is at wood’s edge, melted into reality, his modest rack like a small castle The moment of taking the shot (with daughter as hunter) makes the poem so fine in its creation of time shared by two people, its building of tension, and its sweet resolution. In this collection, Norwood is recording histories and textures of the town of Columbus, Georgia, the birthplace of Carson McCullers. Citing her words as epitaph to Part III, the poet broadens our understanding of the town: “When the mills are slack this town is veritably a place of lost and hungry people.” With the poems “Clamor,” “Remains of a Brick Kiln Built by Slaves,” “LB on the Violin,” and “Hired Hand,” Norwood extends the kind of loneliness and hunger one finds in McCullers’s Georgia. In “Abandoned Farmhouse,” the narrator explores an old house, a barn, and a rusted 1940s Dodge, describing the view from the bedrooms as stretching “toward a brown treeless horizon sad as a Sunday afternoon” and the seat covers of the old Dodge as emitting “ghosts like an aged Limburger.” We see, sense, and smell the scene. All but one of the poems in Part IV fit tightly together. They give a definitive history of the cotton-mill culture and, like the eagle, weave around the town and the Chattahoochee. Lines from “Eagle & Phenix Dam,” are evocative: “lunging lint / all day and slouching home / to a company shack.” Haunting, too, are these from “Eagle-Watching”: 128 SPRING/SUMMER 2020 On an oak limb her beak-blade went in eyeball-first while the homeless dozed on nearby benches, belongings leaf-bagged beside them. “Eagle,” a poem of five stanzas of unrhymed quatrains, seems not to belong to this collection, for its theme is the landing on the moon. Throughout, Norwood offers consistency of craft in his highpowered descriptions, evoking lost times and lost places. Those were difficult times in the town. The poems make us appreciate how Norwood’s writing preserves something in our country that needs preservation: the hard will to make things better.