cover image Dismal Rock

Dismal Rock

Davis McCombs. Tupelo Press, $16.95 (62pp) ISBN 978-1-932195-48-4

McCombs follows up his Yale YoungerPoets Prize winning debut, Ultima Thule with another book-length study of life in Kentucky. The first section, ""Tobacco Mosaic,"" is a sixteen-poem sequence about the decline of the burley tobacco farms of south-central Kentucky. The second, ""The Mist Netters,"" is comprised of twenty-six lyrics addressing the American rural landscape and/or artistic making. Throughout, McCombs is wonderful with details: ""Tonight, the year's first dust of snow started falling on the road/ past Mansfield Bend, and as I drove, it fell on Summer Seat,/ Paul Wheeler's Barn, and Haunted Hill. It fell, no doubt,/ on Woodsonville and darkly on the spine of Dismal Rock."" Unfortunately, McCombs can also be melodramatic, as in ""Nineveh,"" where the moonlight falls ""like forgiveness,"" or in ""Smoke,"" when a mysterious, ghost-like stranger warns us, ""Tobacco is a holy spirit/ . . . but abuse it, and its power will kill you."" Several poems in ""The Mist Netters"" consider McCombs' own process, among them ""Noodling"" (slang for catching catfish by hand, using the fingers as bait), which ends up an unintentionally comic echo of Elizabeth Bishop's famous poem ""The Fish."" Nonetheless, McCombs is a careful poet who looks thoroughly. He will be exactly what some readers are looking for.