Review by Nick DePascal
Kevin Prufer’s fifth poetry collection, In a Beautiful Country, is a fitting follow up to 2008’s National Anthem in terms of a continuation of themes and content. Like his previous collection, In a Beautiful Country is an engaging and lengthy meditation on the loss of one’s country, one’s faith and one’s friends and family. The collection, in its willingness to take risks with imagery and sounds, is an absolute mesmerizing pleasure to read [...] The book is rich with images at turns beautiful, disturbing, vivid and voluptuous. Prufer’s love and mastery of the striking image is evident in his ability to make the reader reconsider a seemingly concrete image from another angle. Consider the painstakingly rendered, almost perversely loving description of a weapon of destruction in “Patriot Missile,” which begins:
I loved the half-constructed hulk of it,
the firing condenser that, bared,
caught the light
and made of it a copper flare—
nose and husk, electrolyte.
And I, tweezing a clot of oil, a metal shaving from its stilled heart,
might smile, as if to tell it Live—
Here, the image of the missile is given the florid details of a living thing, so that it comes to sound like the speaker is describing a flower, or the features of a beloved. Likewise, another exciting trait of much of Prufer’s poetry is at work in this poem: his seemingly unabashed love of rhythm, rhyme, and just generally sound. Here, the rhymes of “bared” and “flare,” and “oil” and “smile,” have a soft, open-mouthed quality to them, as if the speaker is cooing to a lover, which incidentally, later in the poem he does, when he discloses “I told it Darling and Love.”
It seems rare and refreshing these days to find a poet so willing to pose a clear and traceable rhyme scheme in his poetry, and yet Prufer does so quite effortlessly. Take for example the ABBA rhyme structure of “What I Gave the 20th Century,” which begins “I gave it thirty years. It wanted more. / I loved its mad perambulations / through the outlet malls, its runs / of horror movies and its discount stores.” Prufer manages to successfully carry this rhyme scheme throughout the four stanzas of the poem by using a mix of perfect and slant rhyme. He never forces an exact rhyme on the lines if they don’t call for it, instead allowing rhymes to fall where they may within the line, all of which contributes to wonderful sound and rhythm without sacrificing the surprise of interesting line breaks. Ultimately, it’s this sort of attention to sonic detail and general command of image that make one want to go back and read the poems again and again.