Review of a pair of poetry chapbooks by Eric Potter, Heart Murmur and Still Life
Although Eric Potter isn’t that old yet—young enough at least to have watched the mid-sixties sitcom McHale’s Navy back in first grade—he seems quite preoccupied with aging. He watches his father in “Judas That I Love” and says, “My father mirrors all my fears”; in “Presbyopia” he writes of getting used to deteriorating eyesight; in “Square” he records a dutiful visit to his institutionalized grandfather, and in “Pall Bearing” his thoughts cross the line to death. Despite these commonalities, Eric Potter’s chapbook Heart Murmur is far from a thematic collection.
Within these twenty-two poems, his inspirations are as diverse as a walking stick he has trekked through Europe with, a child’s drowning, and a bobblehead Shakespeare. Most are free verse, although Potter doesn’t shrink from such structures as rhyming quatrains (“Eventide”) and the sonnet (“Ebb Tide”); actually, these are among the best poems in Heart Murmur, since such constraints have nudged Potter to create a smoother, more lyric tone.
In contrast, the twenty-two poems in Still Life are quite focused in their theme; they’re primarily concerned, in one way or another, with Christian faith. There are poems here from the perspective of biblical characters, including those in “Rahab,” “Moses In Midian,” and “Almost Apostle.” I particularly like “When He Came To His Senses,” which in three stanzas tells about the three main characters in the prodigal son story. The last stanza reads:
The father saw no sense in forcing
his youngest to stay, knowing restlessness
when finally spent buys only a cup
of weariness, which does not satisfy.
Hungry for his son’s return, he knew delay
sharpens appetite and was willing to sustain
himself with hope till he could waste
his best on that worst of sons
in love’s most satisfactory feast.
Theme isn’t the only reason I prefer Still Life. I believe Potter has a more consistently strong voice here. He envisions well the characters in these stories (although, perhaps, the Syrophoenician woman in “Desperate Times,” less believably so). Included also in Still Life are two poems inspired by images from Kurt Weitzmann’s book The Icon: Holy Images—Sixth to Fourteenth Century. The first, “Favorite Saint,” is about an icon of Peter; the second, “Still Life,” depicts forty martyrs carved from ivory. Photos of these icons are helpfully included. Other high points include “Caught,” reminiscent of Robert Siegel, and “Morning Petitions,” which echoes the voice of Jane Kenyon: “Let the birds sing back the sun. / Let the dew anoint the grass . . .”
His humour has a sharp bite when turned on fellow Christians—the staid worshippers “At The Presbyterian Church,” or the oh-so-easy target of the consumer of what I call Jesus-junk, in “Jesus, Inc.” Far better is the honesty when he turns that strong lens on himself in his Psalm 23 take-off at the end of the chapbook: “The Lord is (supposed to be) my shepherd; / I should not want, though I often do . . .”
Potter is an associate professor of English at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. He did his undergrad at Wheaton College and received his graduate degrees from the University of Virginia. His poetry has appeared in many of the best Christian journals, including Ruminate. Keep your eye out—for in time I expect to see a strong full-length poetry collection from Eric Potter. Of course, you don’t have to wait until then to enjoy his work.
Heart Murmur (Pittsburgh: Twisted Tree Press, 2010) and Still Life (Steubenville, PA: Franciscan UP, 2010)