In her first full-length poetry collection, long-time editor and reviewer Theresa Burns gives us a close-up examination of the everyday world around us. Riffing off Robert Frost’s much-loved poem “Design,” titular poems are sprinkled throughout the book and denoted by the numbers one through four, appearing in all but one of the five sections of the collection.
In the first poem, “Someone Threw Down a Wildflower Garden in an Empty Lot in Newark,” Burns draws our eye to a man-made garden near a train platform. In this urban setting, the speaker of the poem questions who could have done such a thing and seeded an empty Newark lot with a bed of wildflowers.
Who was the genius who thought of this?
What meadow-in-a-can Samaritan
got sick of passing the four-acre eyesore
on the walk to work? Shook pity into blossom.
To whom do I write my thank you—
mayor, surveyor, county clerk, church lady?
Who marched down to city hall, begged
anyone who would listen? (7)
The conversational tone of the poem is elevated to beauty not just in the scene of wonder that it depicts but by gorgeous lines such as “Shook pity into blossom.” The speaker’s amazement at the unexpected flurry of nature’s blooms culminates in the realization that such transformation demands thanks. The action of storming city hall with a request is usually associated with injustice, the need for reform, or oft-repeated complaints. But the speaker suggests that this act is one of heroism, too, a way of making the city’s blight disappear for everyone who stands on that train platform.
So when Frost’s poem marvels at a creator that could design the fateful union of a flower, spider, and moth, did he envision what humans could bring to fruition?
Throughout the collection, the poems suggest that when tipped in the right direction, humanity can bring beauty and wonder into the world, and design splendor.
Again and again, throughout the book, the speaker says to look here and there and here again, at the world we move through daily but tend to gloss over. Burns’ poems remind us that beauty is necessary, and everywhere.
Design by Theresa Burns
Terrapin Books, 2022 [paper] ISBN 978-194789653
Christine E. Salvatore received her MFA from The University of New Orleans. She currently teaches at Stockton University, in the MFA Program at Rosemont College, and at a public high school in South Jersey. When she’s not working, she hangs out with her dog, Lady Brett Ashley, and her boyfriend, Lee.