Deeply felt verses espousing resilience, belonging, and
artistry in the face of the challenges of the everyday
A Book of Exquisite Disasters, the first book-length poetry collection from Charlene Spearen, is an exploration of a multifaceted identity forged through moments spent as a daughter, sister, woman, and poet. A nimble wordsmith and unique spirit, Spearen plays with language as if syllables and words are musical notes that in the end creates an exquisite song erupting with mysterious clarity. In these idiosyncratic poems, she hones in with grace and vigor on perplexing subjects from her life experiences and uses the act of writing and creation to propel herself forward on a journey to question and witness humankind's beauty and suffering as an inherent song of the world. These poems represent a leap of faith, the courageous act of letting go and taking risks while remaining reverent to a sense of being a member of a family, of being a woman. In heartfelt narratives Spearen traverses myriad landscapes populated with people real and imagined and infused throughout with the many—and often familiar—exquisite disasters that confront each of us as human beings.
Charlene Spearen is a professor of English and Chair of the Humanities Division at Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina. Poet in residence at the Columbia Museum of Art, Spearen served as the associate director of the South Carolina Poetry Initiative. Her work has appeared in several journals, The Southern Poetry Anthology: South Carolina, and the 2011 Uphook Press Anthology, -gape-seed-. Her chapbook, Without Possessions, won the 2006 Stepping Stone Press Editors Series Award.
"Charlene Spearen's fine collection of poetry is a book about fate, doubt, and the aspects of faith by which we navigate the exquisite disasters of village, family, and personal life. Eudora Welty wrote that she loved her own fiction's characters; likewise Spearen depicts her people without sentimentality yet in tender clarity. She delights in paradox, opposition, uncertainty, even as she displays a keen sense of formal control and poetic design. Narrative and lyrical, plainspoken with subtle religious intonations, the poems in A Book of Exquisite Disasters make 'mouth music' that's rich, sonorous, and capable of twang as well as solace."—David Baker, poetry editor, Kenyon Review
"In these pages Charlene Spearen steps out of her shadows and loses her privacies and her good girl clothes to illuminate for us mysteries hidden in unswept corners and to poke and prod valiantly at monumental tempests like religion and family while letting nothing fall through her willing fingers. Spearen takes her elegant giant steps, pointing with every tool she can find—copper, beams of moonlight, a flickering candle, squares of silver padded reflective insulation board—so we might see and feel the full breadth of all of her exquisite disaster landscapes."—Nikky Finney, author of Head Off & Split
"A Book of Exquisite Disasters is a splendid book of poetry. Charlene Spearen’s verse has that uncanny grace of being able to engage very intimate and harrowing moments while finding the language and the metaphors to make such moments resonate even beyond their particular moment. . . . What holds these poems together is the clear and assured voice of the poet—a poet blessed with chronological maturity that has then allowed her to translate the wisdom of having lived many lives to the wisdom of poetic experience and understanding. We quite simply trust this voice for its honesty and humility."—Kwame Dawes, Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner, from the foreword