When Reece spoke with Louise Gluck, who had chosen his manuscript for the Bread Loaf poetry prize, he noted how “she spoke in fully formed, complete, complex, laser-like sentences….My own English tightened to keep up.” Similarly penetrating portraits of James Merrill, Mark Strand, Richard Blanco, and other luminaries of contemporary poetry stud this memoir, but Reece’s rise to their ranks was slow and anguished. He struggled for over 15 years and racked up 300-plus rejections before the Bread Loaf breakthrough. These were years not only of literary frustration, but of alcoholism, family estrangements, and, the anguish of a gay man afraid to come out, even to himself. Reece writes wrenchingly of “the way my life swung between buttoned up repressions and drunken outbursts,” but while he couldn’t face his sexuality, he did recognize that he loved poetry, and from Plath to Dickinson to Elizabeth Bishop, George Herbert, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, it saved his life over and over. This would be a rich enough story, but, like Hopkins, Reece shares the dual callings of writing and religion; now an ordained Episcopal minister, he has made poetry key to his spiritual mission,an experience he renders in powerful, resonant language—as he does everything in this heartfelt, haunting book.
The Secret Gospel of Mark, by Spencer Reese