They Were Bears

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Saturday Poetry Series Book Review


“They Were Bears gives us a world that is intimate, complicated, and lush in its raw, brutal meditation upon the complexities of Nature, both within and beyond our grasp as both human beings and animals. These poems by Sarah Marcus channel what the world demands of us, and our bodies as we are guided through a startling cartography of desire, trauma, and memory that is both refuge and wilderness. Marcus writes, ‘I want to say that there are places I have to go, and you have to follow me…through all this orange light, every version of the color red, we betray ourselves for miles.’ With stunning craft and intuition, Marcus places her lyric power against the beautiful, terrifying bones in us where words often feel broken and impossible. Her poems expand through their stark and luminous discoveries to reveal a natural and psychic world too complex to ignore. Marcus gives us sacred breath in which to claim that world when she writes, ‘We inscribe the rocks/with our names, wanting a sign,/want the sky to say:/This is mainland. Solid ground./The place you’ve been looking for.'”
-Rachel Eliza Griffiths, author of Lighting the Shadow

“How do we forgive the hungry bear, after it feeds one someone we love? Perhaps we find a landscape that calls to us and lose ourselves in it. Yet Sarah Marcus’s poems are so much bigger than their inspiring traumas, their ‘bad huckleberry’ years. I am stunned by the frank beauty of her sound play and imagery, whether coyote country or ‘Beach grass flats—scrub broken with thickets of black cherry,’ whether the refuge of a mother’s porch or a meth-riddled smile of ‘broken sea shells.’ How do we bear love after love obeys its hungers? I believe in what Gregory Orr would call ‘poetry as survival.’ I believe in the resonant truths of They Were Bears.”
-Sandra Beasley, author of Count the Waves

“In Sarah Marcus’s poems, interior and exterior landscapes switch places, the psyche becomes just another fragile and besieged ecosystem, and it is impossible to consider the bear within, without also considering the bear without. The work is organic—like loam, but also nimble, geomorphic, consequential, unsettling. Violence is a given, here in the unrelenting outdoors where hearts fracture and continents shift, and, in equal proportion, wonder.”
-Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted


Barton Smock’s review of THEY WERE BEARS:

Absence is not a magic trick. In this book, there are enterings and leavings and a loneliness that says I am home because I am here. In one wilderness, “Cleveland is one big hospital” (from No Children), in another, “The boar closes the distance” (from Damage Ready)

This book will do nothing to curb your addiction to trajectory. As for continuance, I wasn’t sure I could go on after reading the last line of the first poem. Marcus maps her land early.

You will question your body throughout. Body are you wanderer or are you deserter. Are you mouth or are you feast. Body have you devoured my eyesight. Every last bit?

Vastness is local. Ruin, a tourist. Pain a forward thinking journalist still covering the moon as made for man.

Bears are here, are moving in and out of a crowd’s exodus from a costume party for symbols. Some bears are not here, but are sick of being spirits.

I wish I could bring only what I need. But what of the other, dragged as it was for being necessary?

Marcus is a writer of both inquiry and finality. She has stones, not for, but from, the stoning. In the book’s last entry (Revival, Revival), this phrase: “Unspell me.” I was broken before I broke. This author, she looks back. This journey had a following.