Spencer Reece

Spencer Reece “has something of Bishop’s passion for detail, her scrupulousness, and something of Lowell’s genius for fixing character in gesture…the wild, inexhaustible fertility of his comparisons is, though, without antecedent,” writes Louise Gluck in her introduction to Reece’s The Clerk’s Tale, winner of the 2003 Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference Bakeless Poetry Prize. Reece wrote for two decades without affiliation or support, relying on his job as an assistant manager at Brooks Brothers, a fact that informs the title of his first collection of fifty extraordinary poems.

Henri Cole called The Clerk’s Tale “a remarkable book,” likening the poems to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ sonnets, “not because of any similarity in style, but because of the unspoken sorrow lingering behind his descriptions of landscape and life.” Annie Dillard has praised the book as well, calling the poems “exquisitely restrained, shot through with a longing for permanence, from the quasi-monastic life of two salesmen at Brooks Brothers to the poignant lingering light of a Miami dusk to the weight of geography on an empty Minnesota farm.”

Spencer Reece was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1963, grew up in Minneapolis, and graduated from Wesleyan University. He went on to receive an MA from the University of York UK, where he studied the 17th c. romantic poets, and a Masters in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School at the age of 27. Recently, he has been teaching in the low residency program at Lesley University, and will enter Yale Divinity School in the fall in preparation for ordination. Reece will continue to write poems as he follows his calling to become a hospice chaplain.

Poetry Center Reading:
Fall 2008

(Photo credit: Matthea Daughtry)


You are being born. Feels good.
Something enormous kisses you.
Its eye surveys your revolutions.
Relaxed in your new nudity.

you work your labyrinthine ears,
those perfect disciples,
registering all that hums, ticks.
O you encyclopedia you,

you do not know what I know,
how blank the cold world can grow.
But let the addendums come later.
I listen to the dust from the city

gather on the necks of the saints
at the hospital’s exits I exit.
And so I say to you yes you:
everyone’s a fugitive. Everyone.

From THE CLERK’S TALE (Mariner Books, 2004)


You leave the back door wide open,
your bare feet thudding against the dirt,
the dirt cracked with hairy-fisted shoots,
pummeling their message skyward.

You walk straight into the garden
wild with jetting juiced stalks.
You listen to the bees’ talk harden.
Pines swish their wrists, discarding needles

like clock hands. It is 4 p.m.; the garden’s edges brown.
The clouds drop; the sky goes blueberry blue.
You hear the night push her plausive voice,
glistering with perfumeries.

You rush back in, clutching a bouquet of irises,
the crumbling farmhouse blushing with dusk.
You place the irises in a vase on the hutch. The irises’ beards
purple with sweat while you go off to sleep,

your gorgeous middle-aged torso yielding,
your nostrils drumming like dove chests.
Have I added too many strokes? I want so much
to make you real, to get it right.

From THE CLERK’S TALE (Mariner Books, 2004)

To Those Grown Mute

viii. To Those Grown Mute

it is dawn on the locked unit
the moon wheelbarrows her orchestra away
in the town the children are out of reach
my roommate’s face is a peach that rots
the correct report of who I am disperses
the bank clerk who went off Lithium to have her first baby
has a brain that will not work
she lies on her bed like a snail without a house
the slits on her wrists itch
the nurse applies her lipstick behind her plate-glass station
her question is always the same
How will you get back
I move my rosary up and down in my right hand
the windows grow blue then clear as mirrors
we are all ambassadors carrying suitcases

excerpt of “Addresses” from THE CLERK’S TALE (Mariner Books, 2004)