Sundress Reads: Review of The Temple

Michael Bazzett’s The Temple (Bull City Press, 2020) invites readers to enter a realm where the stone is rolled away, revealing a space for musings, mystery, curiosity, and the type of humor that feels wise and natural. Bazzett effortlessly grapples with the bewilderment that the body has in a world where very few things are certain, and everything is waiting.

In a collection of 20 short poems, The Temple introduces a God who is equipped with dark humor, a nonchalant attitude, and even a cigar. Made up of two parts, the collection explores the stance I imagine many people come across with the topic of faith: how it sways from strong truth to a subtle wondering to, sometimes, disbelief. I imagine the speaker of these poems has walked a beach and searched for a set of footprints but instead saw only the crest of a swell wash them away. With this use of imagery and language, it’s no wonder American poet Maggie Smith says of the book, “Of poets writing today, I can’t think of any whose metaphors are more satisfying than Michael Bazzett—and The Temple is his best work yet.”

Belief is the heart of the collection and appears in the poem it’s named after, but these poems are accessible to anyone—including those without a background in religion. Pondering belief and meaning—the same unknowns that make us all human—its concerns surround the actual body we possess and the places we take them and leave them, momentarily, curious about what any of it will result in or for what purpose.

These poems are part confessional, part dramatic monologue, part history, part cryptid tale bestowed from a place of wisdom, all making the collection strange and inspiring. The musicality of the pieces flow and spill over the page and onto the lap of the reader. Here, anything is possible: an empty city living inside the body, a dog writing poetry, a blue-toothed woman, miracles. The narratives in these poems are so evocative you could reach out and touch them, or mistake the voices for someone you know intimately well, forcing both reader and poem to sit together in grief, a desperate longing, or casual conversation. Here, a God eats old candy and compares it to tinfoil, “All that aching naked hope.”

The poem “My Body Tells Me What To Do” spits the reader into the thickness of vulnerable honesty with the lines “There is still a meaty part of me / that yearns to rest / in dirt and grow soft as a mashed root.” The piece then wanders into the ponderings of turning to ash, going under the ground, and the eventual and unavoidable concept of nothingness. “The Ones Who Aren’t Mentioned” introduces characters like the dog of a serial killer, a small mouse witnessing a city burn, and a God with a reluctance to self-identify, ending on the lines “Imagine laying down / a rusty knife and calling it love.”

Many of the poems include running titles that lead into the first line, yet each piece in this book feels as if you are at a sermon rediscovering your deepest self, your soul split open to the will of the words, imagery, and rhythm. Bazzett begins The Temple with a poem titled “The End,” which is a giveaway for how topsy turvy the world is within this surreal collection. The Temple symbolizes all the things people often worship, whether it be religion, a God, a body, or a place. The title of the collection couldn’t be more fitting, with Bazzett acting as its interpreter. The complexity of this writing is wrapped up in such a brief collection gracefully, with the ending poem “The Follower” encountering a run in with an older version of the self but choosing to watch them disappear. This ending ultimately leaves the reader with a different version of themselves prior to reading it, as we sit with our body, reflecting on the exquisite peculiarities in our own lives we choose to worship or believe in. Reading this book will encourage you to reflect on what resigns within your own temple.

The Temple is available at Bull City Press

Ryleigh Wann (she/her/hers) is an MFA poetry candidate at UNC Wilmington. Her past experiences include reading poetry for Ecotone, editing with Lookout Books, teaching creative writing, and working for the Parks and Recreation Department in Michigan. Her writing can be found in Rejection Letters, Flypaper Lit, and Kissing Dynamite Poetry, among others.