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High Plains Book Awards winner: “Wilderness//Kingdom” by Jory Mickelson

High Plains Book Awards winner: “Wilderness//Kingdom” by Jory Mickelson

From the Reviews of 2020 High Plains Book Awards Finalists series
High Plains Book Awards Finalist: “Wilderness//Kingdom” by Jory Mickelson

Editor's note: “Wilderness//Kingdom” is the winner in the Poetry category of the 2020 High Plains Book Awards.

“Wilderness//Kingdom” by Jory Mickelson is a compilation of poems that catalogs the relationship of the narrator to his family, lovers, landscape and heartache.

Divided into five segments, the book of poetry is similar to a coming of age story, offering moments of lost innocence both as a child and grown man. The narration is vulnerable, beautifully candid and epitomizes the ideology of soul searching.

There are ties to flora and fauna, trying to find meaning, and remembering family. Mickelson employs exquisite imagery to evoke internal emotion in the reader that stretches beyond even the poet’s own emotional exertion.

“We tethered/ together, all pause and follow, / while streetlight burst/amber over tulip poplars/that guides the river’s dark cord.”

Mickelson’s writing varies from long, devotional pieces that act as a confessional or an account of a fading memory to shorter prose that delicately illuminates one moment of intimacy. His words often spill over with pain and relief as if the words he is writing – sometimes with an undeniable urgency – have been waiting with eager ink to finally reveal all.

The works vary from descriptions of fleeting moments with his father, the memory of a conversation with his grandmother, and the vulnerable flashes of lovers come and gone – some beautiful and others, violent and brutal.

While his writing eloquently captures the journey of a young man trying to navigate the discovery of his sexuality, there is always an undercurrent of torment – as if he is simultaneously living the experience and watching it as an out-of-body occurrence. His open account illuminates the real dangers and cruelty homosexual men must encounter.

“This place/no land, but to land in./ The heat of violence, mostly kept/to the parking lot on the late summer nights. / How men stop talking about desire, then/ dive in. Faggot going off like gunshot/ to provoke rather than wound, sure as/ a push, a shoulder or grab at another’s girl.”

Intimacy is spread throughout the collection; it extends through lineage, love, and landing in places where the narrator best identifies himself in those moments. “Mercy” is a finalist for the High Plains Book Award in Poetry.

Charity Dewing is a journalist at the Billings Gazette and adjunct professor at MSUB.

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