SUGAR FIX BY KORY WELLS, REVIEWED BY editor CAMERON MORSE
Kory Wells’ collection Sugar Fix is plenteous, as she might say. Her “greed for the plenty” has resulted in six chapbook-sized sections on a Whitmanic scale with concerns for the body politic as well as for the body. This combination causes cells to “jabber madly about a world of problems.” A project book on an epic scale, Sugar Fix’s dominant metaphor is food and glucose, and it’s a vehicle that wants to take us everywhere: Sugar as desire, sustenance, survival, even love.
Like Whitman, Wells enters the details of her own life story into national discourse on a variety of social issues, from mass shootings to the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Which is not to say these are monochromatically first-person speaker poems or communal “we” poems. Rather, like Plath, Wells explores a range of identities through persona. In “Still Won’t Marry,” she assumes the endearing voice of a grandmotherly Appalachian woman. In “Mahaley Explains,” she portrays a Native American’s plight of being “forever yoked” to the Irishman who forced himself upon her.
The magic of Sugar Fix is that one can still detect among these astonishingly different poems the project’s dominant metaphor: the Irishman’s “rotten potato smell,” the vanilla “dabbed” behind the matron speaker’s ear. The reader is clearly in the hands of an accomplished weaver of yarns.
Indeed, story turns out to be one of the book’s central preoccupations. Specifically, Wells invokes a healthy skepticism for the way in which oral histories stretch or skew. In the eerily gothic poem “All Things Are a Darkness” whose staggered tercets zig and zag, snaking across the page, she observes how “tales wear a smidgeon thinner, / shinier with each use.”
Elsewhere, in what presents itself to be a straightforward nature poem, “cicadas’ dry husks / cling like forsaken stories,” implying the past doesn’t ever really leave us, or our consciences, any lighter. The poem belies Wells’ true aim: She holds us accountable for our memories, our histories, our desires.
Cameron Morse is the award-winning author of Fall Risk (Glass Lyre Press 2019). His subsequent collections are Father Me Again (Spartan Press 2018), Coming Home with Cancer (Blue Lyra Press 2019) and Terminal Destination (Spartan Press 2019). He lives with his wife Lili and son Theodore in Blue Springs, Missouri, where he serves as a poetry editor for Harbor Review.