Bobby Steve Baker
Accents Publishing, Winged Series
Chapbook, 29 pages
Review by PQ Contributing Editor Kaitlin Keller
Dr. Bobby Steve Baker is a plastic surgeon who tackles the issue of loss and the condition of human existence in his first chapbook, Numbered Bones. The author strips away the layers of his own humanity as he searches for something that seems to elude him, a sense of self slipped from his grasp or silently stolen in the dead of night. Recurring themes of dreams, the supernatural and fruitless mother-child relationships flourish throughout. There is a system of breaking down the human psyche and experience into smaller parts—particles, if you will—in an effort to understand life.
In his first poem, “Wild Game,” Baker showcases his talent for invoking choice words that ignite imagery. As meat is described cooking over a wood fire, the reader feels like he is standing next to the scene and may even start to salivate:
first choice loins just two per beast,
pierced on raw wood,
spaced by bacon in fists-full
on a three-foot stripped down cedar spit.
Stick it near a roaring fire,
let the sizzle juice run
down the wood
from loin to loin…
In the poems that follow, the author gives us a glimpse into his conscious and shows us the vacuous landscape in which he seems to be grasping for relief from confusion and solitude. In “Motherless Child,” Baker tells us:
I am forever in a foreign port
after rough travel on a foreign sea.
People talking-talking-talking, and I,
I cannot comprehend.
The most striking poem in the collection is “On Purpose.” It harbors a haunting, nightmare-like aura, where fake, overdramatic smiles that the author’s “on-purpose” or conscious life is made of are compared to his dreams—the owl—that usher in unhappiness.
I am on purpose. The owl was by accident.
He let you dream,
which led to the great sadness.
It’s when the poems are grounded in the specific and not the conceptual that Baker’s work is the strongest. “Before We Knew” is an example of a well-balanced poem that uses effectual language and doesn’t try too hard. The ideas do not get jammed and are able to flow effortlessly. “747 Starboard Window” is another poem that works by using beautiful, precise language and specific imagery:
The lavatory X is lit,
and so we sit, Icariously ascending,
looking starboard over Boston’s barren winter,
anticipating California’s eucalyptus balm.
Numbered Bones functions by isolating an emotion and inviting the reader to experience it. There is a sense of loss as passion is broken down into particles, carefully examined, and then sewn back together.
Kaitlin Keller received her MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. Her latest literary venture involves raising awareness of the “novel in verse”—a hybrid genre which blends elements of poetry and verse with the formulaic structure of fiction novels. She is also currently penning the sequel to her first manuscript, Siren. She is a fanatical music lover and karaoke singer. Never dwelling long enough to call one place home, she currently resides in Manlius, New York with her husband and her constant companion, Fizzgig, her faithful Shih Tzu.