By Ken Autrey

Dos Madres Press, 2023

Paperback: $21.00

Genre: Poetry

Reviewed by Edward Journey

image of the cover of Ken Autrey's Circulation: Poems

In his poem “Mnemonist,” Ken Autrey evokes a man “whose mind / will not forget,” even as the words of the very poem he is writing “now flatten into precision, / holding me in relentless thrall.” That poem seems to be a fitting guidepost for Autrey’s new collection, Circulation, and its poems of memory, loss, and discovery. In a poem like “Expedition,” Autrey’s description of the mundane – an at-home slide show for sick kids – veers into the sublime.

Ken Autrey, who lives in Auburn, is an Emeritus Professor at Francis Marion University and the well-traveled author of four poetry chapbooks and other works in various publications. His poems, which are often deeply personal, look at lives lived, generations lost or ascending, and the appeal of the commonplace. 

These poems often stir nostalgia but, in their restraint, they are never maudlin. Structurally, Autrey informally plays with a variety of formats, occasionally – but not strictly – hinting at a pantoum or maybe a villanelle to come. Meanwhile, “The Wait” is a perfectly formed Shakespearean sonnet. Those things sneak up on the reader, however, and never detract from the rich imagery and ideas Autrey expresses.

Autrey divides his poems into four sections. In section I, images of boyhood dominate – a cafeteria food fight, a field trip to an aquarium, a visit to a junkyard, a high school physics lesson – and give way to elegies for dying parents. The poem “In Medias Res” addresses the life flow, with images of lives beginning or ending while others move forward to their own unpredictable destiny.

In sections II through IV, marriage, children, grandchildren, weddings, and birthdays occur. A child works fervently to write the word “turtle” amid her grandfather’s realization of “one word, / then two, and eventually. … / the whole world.” There is travel to places, known and unknown, and quiet contemplation of “… the murmur / of nesting birds at dusk,” the landscape of an abandoned coal mining district, or the frenzied pounding of a woodpecker in the backyard. 

The serene contemplation of larger truths beyond familiar surfaces makes these poems compelling. Ken Autrey’s poems quietly soar by finding ways to take the reader “nowhere special but somewhere / different.”

Edward Journey, a retired university professor and theatre professional living in Birmingham, regularly shares his essays in the online journal “Professional Southerner” (