James Shea, Star in the Eye

Star in the Eye is true to itself and to the heavier emotions that stem from awkwardness, transition, rejection, resignation, lost time and memory. Recent winner of The Fence Modern Poets Series, it is easy to understand why this one was chosen among its stealthy competition. James Shea’s thoughts are carefully constructed so that they become valuable to anyone, not just devoted poetry followers or even those who craft words themselves. Certain lines are so effectual and familiar—especially to those who question every iota, including their own flecks in and of the world—that Shea lets them stand alone: “Here, place me wherever.” Perhaps more guarded than their surrounding clusters, perhaps not, lines such as this one press the reader to denounce previous conclusions or reject the roles of others around them. Or: maybe this line refers to the collective sentiment of our spent generation… taking whatever job or role we can. There’s little room to be picky in an era similar to last century’s stifling Depression; there’s little room left after excessive technological spews, media binges, flagrant consumerism.

Thirty-one sensitive poems ranging from the unassuming “Poem” (”I was sad I was not the young boy who passed me each day the way water carries a ship…”) to the morose, filmic vignettes of “Dream Trial” often require a double-take:


The stagecoach resembles a teahouse
in which I’ve fallen asleep. The stagecoach
overturned in the canyon. Horses on their sides
crying out. Echoing back and forth inside the ravine.
Morning but the sun is not out.
The driver dead. A little girl survives.
She’s not sure where to go. She doesn’t know the canyon.
She stays near the body. Charged with questions.



I burn my house and mostly
the people in it. Others watch
so I pass the matches around.

Not strictly subjective but not objective either, these creative islands float in between two states, somewhat ubiquitous. Words push and tug the reader, just as much as they might have yanked the original one experiencing a moment (”I can’t imagine anything anymore. I feel like there are cameras on me, clicking while I eat and sleep”). Can any of us imagine living in an uninvaded milieu today? Who manages to escape self-consciousness and surveillance, and if so, how? Is it difficult to accept that the notion of a genius or harbinger of uncharted originality is now obsolete? But Shea emphasizes in “Stoic Wreck,” Ideally, you want to become shoreless. Talent or no talent, most of us struggle to be part of something larger than ourselves, while simultaneously wishing to be left alone.

Many of Shea’s lines are sharpened by their selective intimacy—the kinds of thoughts that one has while successfully living a very public, social life whilst also cultivating a parallel universe of solo-observations, notations, philosophical oddities left to be heard by the original thinker only until these gems are lassoed by Shea (”I took a train and when the doors slid open I felt the wind. Would I have to live again tomorrow?”). Does anyone need to live after one feels and sees the beauty of life? How many times must we see this beauty to be full? Or is this beauty the one narcotic that we share, infinitely search for and crave, despite our differences?

Shea’s style is mysterious, expectant, questioning, and accessible though not always comfortable. He writes:

Often two people must separate to reveal they are inseparable. In a world that we are told is getting smaller with improving technologies, the actual physical distance of being apart for those who love or need or want another cannot be replaced by the click-clacking of a keyboard or the sound of a voice over air waves. This is felt and known by those who have ever been removed from an attachment either deliberately or by an external force at work or play. Yet, no one likes to feel or think about these distances.

Maybe Shea believes that writing through such a distance can help one overcome its painful verité. More than one of Shea’s poems in this collection is linked to a recurring dream or fantastical alternatives and if they are not, they beg us to contemplate our own divisions between truth and diversion, the sleepers and the awake, the active and passive markers that we call humans.To see the review in context, click here.

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Edgar Cleijne & Ellen Gallagher
Installation view. Image: Jacquelyn Davis.

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Aslan Gaisumov
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Johannes Heldén
Johannes Heldén, Clouds, 2017.

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Malin Gabriella Nordin, Veil of Dreams, 2017. Image: Gallery Steinsland Berliner.

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Andris Eglītis, Laboratory of Poetic Research, 2017. Image: Jacquelyn Davis.

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Jenna Sutela, Sporulating Paragraph, 2017. Image: Momentum 9.

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Klas Eriksson
Klas Eriksson, Evidence of Patchwork, 2017. Image: Göteborgs Konsthall.

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Lovisa Ringborg
Lovisa Ringborg, Fountain, 2017. Image: Cecilia Hillström Gallery.

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Przemek Pyszczek
Przemek Pyszczek, Public Relief No 6, 2016. Image: Gallery Belenius.

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