“House Museum,” by Mike Bove; Moon Pie Press, Westbrook, Maine, 2021; 82 pages, paperback, $16.

By some stroke of cosmic luck, a kind of reality check fell into my hands this summer when I received a copy of Mike Bove’s second collection of poems, “House Museum.” Bove, who lives in Portland and teaches at Southern Maine Community College, works down-to-earth phrasing, imagery and dramatic situations with remarkable perceptivity.

One way he gets at the real world is to frame and reframe a particular sensibility from different angles, resulting in groups of poems whose subject matters clearly belong together. “House Museum” offers three of these groups: a section of what might generally be called nature poems; a section of poems on his family, particularly his father (who was a well-known physician in Portland); and a section of poems explicitly or implicitly on his relationship to poetry and poets.

The opening poem in the collection, “Hitting a Sparrow on I-295,” craftily exemplifies all three strands. The narrator is driving on the highway with his family, when a sparrow crashes into the car. In just 20 brief but well-detailed lines, the microcosmic shock of the accident emerges powerfully, then is eclipsed at the end by a little boy’s voice:

And from the back,

my son’s small voice:

what happened?

There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow, we may recall, and true to that Shakespearean sensibility, after the bird’s impact: “then, emptiness, / which is everything”. In “Hamlet” that emptiness is expressed as “the rest is silence”; here, it’s what follows the boy’s small voice. The dad, in his shock, cannot answer life and death, and the poem ends on the silence.

Bove’s poetry is crafted to lend itself to this kind of meaning, and indeed the rest of the collection in a way comprises efforts to dispel that silence through remembrance and reflection. Some titles give the feel of the probing, wryly good-humored poems at work: section 1, “What I Should Have Done When I Found the Rabbit Dead,” “Song for Summer’s End”; section 2, “Beset by Dementia, My Father Travels through Time,” “Showing My Kids Where I Grew Up,” “Sometime in the Future, My Kids Ask about the Pandemic”; section 3, “Poor James Wright,” “Neruda.”

In “Letter to Donald Justice Found Inside a Used Copy of His Selected Poems,” the narrator summarizes an anonymous note written years ago to the poet Justice, along the way observing: “poetry always helps, / even when it can’t.” That is just about the size of it. There’s special reassurance in the arrival of books like this.

“House Museum” and Bove’s first collection, “Big Little City,” are available through local and online book sellers and Moon Pie Press.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first and third Fridays of each month. Dana Wilde is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Contact him at [email protected].

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