Review of Bill Neumire’s Estrus


Last year Bill Neumire won our staff prize for his poem  “Think of the Mercy of Volcanoes” which appeared in mojo 2 and closes his recent book, Estrus.   The book was released by Alrich Press. Neumire’s collection establishes a speaker in combat.  The central drama of these poems is rooted in a recurrent claim made in the book, “The only thesis against nothing/ is everything.” The poems themselves struggle with whether or not this assertion can be proved. The high moments of the book, such as the poet’s joy in his children, argue for the value and mystery of everything. In contrast, the bleaker poems stress the arbitrariness of the physical world. Consider the closing poem, “the angel of orreries is spinning/ your galaxy, sending an asteroid/ toward your favorite city. Do not worry/ you do not know yet.” By connecting traditional symbols with the horrors of physics, he creates a devastating image then snidely undercuts it by insisting that we find comfort in our ignorance. As the poems oscillate between these two ideologies, the poet deftly threads the depth and agility of the metaphysicals with William’s insistence that one must not only search for the vividness in things, but also create something of value from one’s interaction with them.

The early sections of the book ground the speaker’s ideas in an experienced reality. Rather than praise the physical world, Neumire establishes the industrial complex as an enemy that can swallow the self. In poems such as “It’s the Hour of the Furnace,” “Father is the Factory,” or “My Father at the Bone Factory” one is reminded of James Wright’s fear of Southern Ohio’s industry.  However, the poet’s metaphysical heritage separates him from the deep imagist.  Neumire writes,

    …There’s no sleep

for us since Marx confessed

we can only ask what we can answer:

in a factory that never closes

my father worked until they buried him

in cogs & now I run the graveyard

& pray to the angel of stillness

& dark matter. Some nights..

The strained chain of causality which asserts that Marx’s confession leads to a factory worker’s doom weds the realms of introspection to the image. The insertion of the first person shows Neumire’s ability to expand the image by linking the problem of the industrialization and relationships to the incomprehensibility of contemporary physics. The techniques seem to be rooted in the French surrealist tradition. Neumire establishes causality, then after we get on board with it, he undercuts it by praying to a non-deity (dark matter) which can only be uncaring. The speaker, however, follows this gesture with agency rooted in real action. Later, he collects the junk left over by consumerism and solders it into “a porcupine/ or a man’s injured ego.”  Implying perhaps that the art of creation (artistic or industrial) allows people to bring meaning to the world even if it can only result in an imperfect self.

In addition to the poems rooted in the implied past of the speaker, Neumire’s “Think of” poems add a unity to the book. These poems allow the poet to again clash the ideas that interest him in a series of interesting catalogs. Like Whitman, his lists are founded upon a clever manipulation of the second person. By telling his speaker to “think”, he creates the sort of intimacy found between a mentor and tutee. In “Think of the Bioluminescence You Do Not Emit,” he writes,

        Think of how dull your skin is

        against the dark. How no spark ruptures

        into the evening waving out

        into the antique neighborhood

        of retired engineers & sleepy hounds.

        How many Aprils have you gutted the house,

        sick of what you’ve gathered?

In these lines the agility of the poem is on display. The “think” phrase guides the reader into a command; the repetition of the into’s creates speed for the poem which allows him to leap to a personal question.  In essence, the question of our lack of light becomes one of our worth which, like in other of Neumire poems, he’s happy to problematize, but prefers to leave in doubt rather than outright dismiss.

Taken as a whole, Neumire’s collection feels right for the contemporary moment. The poet’s mastered the immediacy of the New York school but refuses to adhere to the non-chalance of its descendents. Instead, he tackles the question of meaning by using the things left to us in the contemporary era: broken factories and suburbs, scientific miracles, and the tradition of deep philosophical unrest. The miracle of the collection is that he tackles these themes with poems that are immediately accessible, sometimes playful or heartbreaking, but almost always interesting. The collection can be found for purchase through the Aldrich press website: or on Amazon: