CL. Bledsoe's review of "A Blister of Stars"

I've long been a fan of Jason Irwin's work, ever since his first chapbook, Some Days It's a Love Story, which absolutely blew me away. It actually beat a collection of mine out for a prize, and it deserved to. All of his books have been solid. Irwin tends to write personal poems about his life experiences, which, on the surface, sounds pretty straight-forward. But Irwin has had quite a life. He has seen truly hard times, and he's chosen to share with us the lessons he's learned, dealing with profound issues like trauma and death, while avoiding navel gazing. 

A Blister of Stars does not disappoint. Irwin writes about his childhood, deeply personal poems about illness and poverty, with the underlying theme of economic instability brought about by the dying of the rust belt, a common theme in Irwin's writing. As a reader, you are present with Irwin as he faces life-threatening sickness and terrifying operations, while across the street, the neighbors are shooting at each other because dad got laid off. "Tethered" describes a childhood surgery. "The doctors assure me/I will be better off in the long run." He describes the surgery going wrong and explodes the image of dying children as Christlike. I don't want to spoil it, but he describes the aftermath, "I was just one sick child/ among many sick children/tethered to this world." It's powerful stuff, but Irwin navigates it beautifully. 

But don't let me give you the wrong impression. There is trauma and pain in these poems, but there is also great love and hope. This is the true power of Irwin's writing, the way he is able to redefine the shadows of life in order to accentuate the light. In a brief poem like, 'Moonlight and Chocolate Cake," where he ruminates on the decadence of two lovers sneaking a piece of chocolate cake late at night, "with moonlight spilling like milk" on the counter top. This is someone who's been through a lot and has learned to enjoy the joie de vivre.

C.L. Bledsoe, author of "Riceland."


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