Category Archives: Reviews

Kristina Darling’s Review of “The Fractured World”

Kristina Darling’s review of The Fractured World in The Pedestal in 2008 was, and still is, one of my favorite reviews of my work because, quite simply, I feel like she gets it, and she expresses what she gets quite thoroughly and clearly. I wish I could quote the entire review here. Instead, I’ll give you a snippet and a link to the full review.

“Presenting riverbanks and coastlines alongside the end of time, Owens constructs a vision of the natural world that evokes death and rebirth, as well as a speaker who has learned to embrace these ideas. This piece forms a sharp contrast with earlier poems in the collection, which often present tragedy less hopefully. Revealing the poems in this book as a progression, Owens creates a multifaceted presentation of alienation in everyday life, narrated with elegance throughout.

Ideal for readers who enjoy substantial subjects presented in novel ways, The Fractured World is an enjoyable, thought-provoking, and highly memorable collection.”

And here is the link

Celisa Steele’s Review of For One Who Knows How to Own Land

Among the reviews that I “rediscovered” in putting together the new website was this gem by Celisa Steele. It appeared last year in Pirene’s Fountain, and anyone who knows Celisa will not be surprised at the depth and insight of the review. It’s worth reading whether you’re interested in For One Who Knows How to Own Land or not for what it says about the craft of poetry and the role poetry plays in the world around it.

The review has many paragraphs worth quoting, but this one may be my favorite:

The light in “Leaning Through Darkness to See the Stars,” the quasi-eponymous poem of book’s first section, is more secular—the stars of the title are birds’ eyes. Along with the fine sounds (all the dark ds building up to alliteration near the end, the importance of dead emphasized by the rhyming already following so closely, the lamenting vowels in pocked and sloppy), the poem’s power derives from its refusal to name its subject: no mention of crow, not even of bird. The poem concludes with a kind of ambivalent sympathy for the crop-eating birds:

Most seemed half-dead already, wings
tattered and pocked full of holes,
faces sloppy and scarred.
Only their eyes seemed clear,
black stones shining in death’s dull face. (29-33)

Not naming the subject is another example of the reluctance to reduce that we see in “The Event Rightfully Remembered,” a suspicion that labels are just a reductive convenience.

The entire review can be read here.

Review of Shadows Trail Them Home

Sometimes I’m a bit slow. I just found this review of Shadows Trail Them Home, my recent collaboration with Pris Campbell that continues the saga of Norman and Sara from The Nature of Attraction over at Goodreads. Betty O’Hearn says, “The book hooks you. You cannot wait to turn to the next page. Deep, sensual, relevant and well crafted makes Shadows Trail Them Home a collection that will stir you in places where you may not want to go.”

The entire review is at Goodreads

Jessie Carty Reviews Paternity for Poets Quarterly

Paternity by Scott Owens
Reviewed by Jessie Carty

On my most recent trip to the drug store, I found myself waiting in a short, bunched line with only a wall of condoms to peruse. As I scanned them, I noted a break in the soldier-like lines of prophylactics. On a shelf was a boxy reminder of what can happen if said items were to fail: paternity tests. I couldn’t help but appreciate the irony, but I also thought of the old TV PSA which said, roughly, “any boy can make a child but it takes a man to be a father.” Scott Owens explores fatherhood in his newest poetry book Paternity as a son, step-father and biological parent.

Paternity is separated into four active sections. Owens opens the book with a section and poem titled “Foundings.” The father in “Foundings” rushes to comfort his step-son for the first time without the child’s mother present. Owens writes, “he leaned into me, / and my whole body changed / into something I had not know.” I am not a parent, yet I felt an ache of empathy for that father and son. The father in this poem never expected to be a parent and is almost overwhelmed by his response. This is an understandable reaction given that the speaker of these poems came from an abusive childhood. We glimpse this awful paternity in poems such as “Days I am Not My Father” and “Norman Sucked.”

How does one parent when they were not parented well? The father in this collection, has to find a way to define the word paternity for himself. As he moves into the second section of the book, Owens begins “Naming” the world of paternity for himself. The speaker of these poems is trying to name and earn the title of father and protector. There are quite a few strong poems in this section but I would like to particularly highlight “Memorial.” In this poem, the speaker is taking his young daughter to a graveyard. In this piece we catch a glimpse of the speaker’s concerns for the life of his child, including the life that he will inevitably miss because of his own mortality. This is an individual who is trying to balance being a husband, a father and a writer. The last stanza speaks well to these issues, “I, who know you best, realize / how little I know, your half-formed words, / your deeply decaying path, / the unimaginable loss that lies ahead.”

The third section of Paternity, “Creating Small Occasions,” moves into the daily life and moments that the speaker wishes to capture. Using the word creating is a wonderful choice here because we are watching a child create a world around herself as she plays in “Hiding Places”, vacations and deals with her first loss – the death of her grandmother. There is a definite progression of time and space as these poems develop but none perhaps as pointed as “The Hours” which is a well- constructed poem. The speaker moves through different hours of the day hashing out moments, trying to fulfill all the roles he has taken on. I love the section he titles “4pm” where Owens writes, “Transitions they say / are always more difficult / and the most important.” There is something of an ars poetica to this poem and particularly those lines.

The final section of the book is titled “The Good Listener.” How often do we forget to be good listeners? I like that this is the verb that ends the book because listening is a way of learning and being engaged instead of always being self-focused. There were two poems that stood out for me in this section. In “Falling is Learning” the speaker does something so simple yet so wonderful for his child. He writes, “When my daughter fell / and cried, I fell too / to show her how it’s done.” This father understands pain and the need to find a way to live through it. He wants to help his child in all aspects of life, but most of all, as he writes in “Images of Childhood”, he wants, “to make a monument to childhood / while it still exists. Not mine, of course.” This father wants his child to have memories not always marked “for tragedy and loss” but to instead be in a world “constantly moving and changing colors.”

Overall, this is a very hopeful book, despite the represented father’s own dysfunctional childhood. The issue of abuse is no surprise in Scott Owens’ work. His previous collection “The Fractured World” delved deeply into the abusive role a father can play in a son’s life. There is less violence in Paternity as the formerly abused son becomes a nurturing father who proactively seeks to break the cycle of failed parenting. The topic of parenting and straightforward diction make Paternity a very accessible book. Too many people connote accessible with poetry that is somehow lesser but that is not the case here. This is a collection that will hold the attention of poets because it is well-crafted but this is a also a book which is definitely open to the non-poetry reader. It is not pedestrian to write about fatherhood when you do so with such skill and attention. Paternity is the kind of book you can share with a wide audience and I hope many of you will settle in with these poems very soon.

Reviewed by Jessie Carty.
Poets’ Quarterly | January 2010.