“These poems have music, wisdom, and singular voice of a talent fully realized, and make abundantly clear that Jesse Graves is one of America’s finest young poets.” Ron Rash wrote that years ago. And now we have what Charles Dodd White considers, “Graves’ finest poetry collection to date, which is significant considering I think he is the premier poet of the American South today.” Denton Loving concludes, “Merciful Days is an elegy, but it’s not a dirge. These poems are full of joyous moments, as well as of the deepest sense of love, the kind that only expands and grows.” Years ago, when his talent was first noticed, Graves was inducted into the prestigious Fellowship of Southern Writers. Then he wrote poems of celebration, virtually bereft of elegy. Now, with grey sparkling his short beard, Graves combines the two in a beautiful and even more wise way. This poetry collection honors his deceased father and brother, but Denton Loving points out that the recognition that Graves has of these losses, “speak[s] to a larger theme that flows throughout the collection: that we as individuals are only a fleeting part of something much larger and more mysterious than we can fully comprehend.” Jesse Graves grew up in Sharp’s Chapel, Tennessee, an unincorporated community in Union County, a rural county with no U.S. highways. He teaches about 100 miles to the east at East Tennessee State University. As deep and lyrical as these poems are, they are accessible and spoken in the plain language that identifies them as centered in Union County, not a university.
Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2020. 57 pages. Trade paperback.