Future Cycle Press, 2012
In Dead Horses, her tenth collection of poetry, Joan Colby offers 26 poems focusing on death and loss within agrarian settings. As the collection’s title suggests, horses will be a motif in the book. The collection opens with the title poem structured in the demanding form of the sestina. Of special note are the words Colby chooses to repeat: dream, horses, bleak, light, lace, winter. While she takes some liberties with the repetition of these words, the poem functions as an overture, announcing the subjects and themes of poems to come, and when the collection is read from beginning to end a musical continuity is obvious.
One might initially suspect that with such a title, the mood of the book is bleak, dealing as it does with these sorrowful subjects; however, these poems do not give the impression of hopelessness and futility. The attitude regarding death is one of acceptance of a natural process, even when death results from accidental means, as several poems recount such instances. As anyone who has spent any time on a farm knows, death is a regular part of life.
In any poetry collection, certain poems stand out because of their well-executed composition and powerful effect. In Dead Horses, Colby is at her best in the longer poems: “Dead Horses,” “The Lunar Year,” “Farming,” and “Two Deaths.” These four poems alone provide depth and complexity that invite multiple readings for the audience to savor the poetic experience. “Lunar Year,” in particular, is an ambitious poem in twelve sections, with each section containing the word moon preceded by a modifier. This is not to say, however, that the “shorter” poems are somehow weaker; all of the poems carry their own weight, achieve their distinction. The poems do not blur together but rather contribute to an overall effect of profundity.
While writing tightly crafted poems with a precision that fellow poets will no doubt appreciate, Colby also creates poems that are readable for a broader audience, even for those less familiar with some of the agrarian subjects and settings. In this book, the following adage is true: specificity generates universality. Dead Horses is ultimately a collection that demonstrates excellence without sacrificing accessibility.