From Publishers Weekly
Following a trajectory from apocalypse to redemption, Story Line press founder Robert McDowell's third collection invites readers to go "into the writing where anything/ Can happen." On Foot, in Flames is filled with "a sweet sighing/ From the souls of trees" and "recollections of the days when you/ Surprised yourself with competence, even grace." McDowell appeals to grace in part as a response to violence, as in his depiction of working in a slaughterhouse "Stitched into gloves and apron,/ Lye-spattered, soaked with grease,/ I feed my machine 1,200 hides a day./ Sometimes I think this was the neck, this the tail" or in three blank-verse monologues that witness, among other things, violence against women.
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Story Line is the indicative name of the small press McDowell launched 18 years ago to publish new narrative, formal verse. His own long poems tell stories, and his short ones are vignettes that pique the reader's narrative imagination. His new poems constitute quite an advance beyond The Diviners
(1995), his previous book of poetry, a long narrative, engaging but sketchy in characterization and rather bleached in description. These are more vivid, meatier poems. The longish "Sisters" is an all-too-realistic cognate of the Hollywood feminist fantasy Thelma and Louise
; in it, murder by a woman answers long-standing personal provocation instead of abstract "women's rage." The longer "Red Foxes" tells an everyday tragedy--loss of the family farm by a couple with a school-age daughter--illuminated by flashes of subdued nature mysticism and a bleakly consoling encounter as the family drives away at the end. The longest poem, "The Pact," a slightly ghoulish story of rural adultery, shows McDowell venturing artfully on the terrain of the dour twentieth-century narrative master, Robinson Jeffers. Very impressive. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved