A Week in Burn Lake

Given the recent heat wave that has engulfed Western PA, spending the last few days reading Carrie Fountain’s Burn Lake seems to be appropriate — Fans of the Scrapper Poet know that I am especially fond of poetry books that encompass sense of place and Fountain’s book, a winner in the National Poetry Series takes the reader to New Mexico in a stunning work of both progress and loss.

Burn Lake is a physical place in this collection and is the backdrop for many of Fountain’s narrative poems.  The lake itself is explored in a scattered sequence of poems.  The first “Burn Lake” describes its genesis where the readers find out the town’s favorite swimming hole was man-made and created by accident:  “It was a revelation: kidney-shaped, deep/green there between the interstate/and the sewage treatment plant.”   Hardly the sentimental American pastoral, this poem’s setting is echoed throughout the book in different “Burn Lake” poems including one description of death found on its shores: “We found a duck, a mallard, dead/on the shore, head split, eyes loose//yet when someone poked it with a stick/it shuddered suddenly//and stood up, then collapsed again/and died for real.”

With those descriptions, we, as readers, readily know that this is not going to be a volume of poems about growing up in golden suburbia.  Narratives about childhood and growing up are woven in between the Burn Lake poems.  We learn about the narrator’s brother who “favored cruelty” in “Getting Better” and a young girl’s budding sexuality in “The Change.”  Fountain’s poems are often grim, filled with lost and confused characters. 

Still, in many ways, the book is filled with a quiet determination and sullen hope, as shown in one of my favorite poems, “Heaven” where the narrator details a walk with a friend and the ritual of wish making:  “You were the leader, You’d stop/at the waterfall by the food court, dig a coin/from your pocket and toss it over your shoulder/into the fiberglass river.”

Carrie Fountain’s book was published last year, so yes, it’s relatively new in the poetry world.  It’s been on my wish list for some time.  I have to say that I wish I would have picked this collection up much sooner — it is one of the best I have read in a long time, and as I always note when I find a first book from someone, I can’t wait for her next collection.



  1. I love your phrase “sullen hope,” and this sounds like a powerful book indeed!

  2. Karen Said:

    Some reviewers found Fountain’s narrative poems too simplistic — but I didn’t find that at all!

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