Review of The Radio Tree by Corey Marks, New Issues 2012, $15.00
by Megan Turner

So much of Corey Mark’s poetry centers on loss. But the loss Marks writes of in The Radio Tree is a peculiar kind. It is not the loss of life but instead the loss of self, identity, and childhood.

At times, Marks’s sense of loss is explicit. He writes of shipwrecks, fires, of lost bets, and even sometimes death and destruction. For example, in “Hotel Fire,” he writes:

          … And how could anyone

          save the face risen to the window now?
          She worried about smoke roiling under
          the door, over the bed, the heat, dust and ash,
          the coughing fit that wouldn’t unclench,

          doubling the body like laughter … (p. 44)

More often, however, the loss in these lines is an imagined one. “Heirlooms,” for example, tells the story of a forgotten son:

          … The photos
          are missing, the ones he would point to
          if he could. Replaced with trinkets, lovely
          and small and nothing to do with him.
          How completely he’s gone from this place—
          nothing will look at him, nothing

          will meet his eye … (p. 13)

Here, there is an eerie sense of desertion as the writer returns to where the child is forgotten. He imagines a space that is empty only because it is vacant of what it once held. Similarly, in “The Poet’s House,” Marks takes the reader to a home where poetry was once written:

          Through one window the dim light of a crook-necked lamp
          presides over a pencil sharpened to a fresh point
          and a sheaf of paper scrawled with dust

          but not one word that the poet ever wrote. It is as if
          someone has stepped away, into another room,
          beyond view, beyond what remains—always now—

          unimagined … (p. 47)

There is an anxiety over mortality in these lines but a subtle one. In many of his poems, Marks enters a completely imagined place. Often, the objects and location are real, but those who occupy the space seem not to belong. In “House with a Bed of Tulips,” for example, a child enters her parents’ house before she is born, standing outside the picture of a “… house she could see / inside of when she closed her eyes—” (p. 51). Or, in “Lullaby” the reader enters a fairytale. There are brief moments when the poem dwells on the mundane, but mostly the poem examines the world of Grimm’s “fairytale’s logic” (p. 29-32).

The poems in The Radio Tree read like carefully constructed narratives. Recurrent images include fires, flowers, and birds—a conflation of the childish with the adult. “Fire and Tulips,” (p. 59) the final poem of the book, perhaps encapsulates what all these poems most suggest.

It is the story of a wife entering a house “where, as a child she dreamed a whole / other life than the one she’s bound to now” (p. 60). It is clear this house no longer belongs to the wife, and yet it contains her memories. The poem depicts photos “outlasting any memory anyone would want to claim” (p. 61). “Will someone want us,” Marks asks, “rifling the cast-offs / in the bin, photos of the long dead, the anonymous” (p. 63). The meditation questions how much of oneself one is capable of leaving behind.

Corey Marks’s The Radio Tree offers a beautiful fusion between reality and fairytale. Life and poetry converge until poetry seems essential to one’s being. And shouldn’t good poetry should be like this—bringing one to a space that blends and coalesces with one’s own life? In Marks’s work, poetry is seeping out from the dream and into reality. These poems take the reader to a place where “A tree was burning in my dream” (p. 23), where “They crowded boughs tilting / back toward flames open as palms” (p. 24).


Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, Megan Turner grew up in Harrogate, England and Columbia, Maryland. She has a B.A. from Elon University and an M.F.A. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her work has been published in the Rio Grande Review and Witness.

Comments are closed.