Reviews and Blurbs – A Little Luck

“In A Little Luck, Jeff Worley presents that rarest of commodities—a voice encyclopedic in its attentions, clever, self-aware, and deeply likeable.  His descriptions of nature are conversational and illuminative: the moon ‘positions/ itself like a cue ball/ on purple felt’; a bat becomes an ‘aerial hawker . . ./ spending wildly the coin/ of its winter-banked energy.’ Yet this collection’s pleasures are not just aesthetic.  The poems interrogate a grown man’s perspective on his lost father and his fading mother. Worley’s humor throughout is dark and smart, his phrasings elegant.  I would recommend A Little Luck to the reader who loves the work of Ted Kooser or Rodney Jones. I’d give this book to the reader who does not yet realize he loves poetry.”
-Sandra Beasley, Final Judge, 2012 X.J. Kennedy Prize, Texas Review Press

“If poetry is, as songwriter Leonard Cohen said, ‘just evidence of life,’ Jeff Worley in his new collection, A Little Luck, has stated a very strong case.   Beginning with a birth in which he lands on his parents like a ‘sack of old socks,’ he revisits key stages of his experience, including his uneasy initiation into the facts of life, his failure as a little leaguer, and his first awkward moments as a teacher of composition through a series of embarrassments as he discovers what it means ‘to be in charge.’   As can be seen in many of these poems, Worley is a comic poet who is nevertheless very serious about his craft and in the canted messages his poems send as in, for example, ‘Ode to a Possum,’ in which he imagines introducing himself to that ‘fat ghost,’ then witnesses its cagey withdrawal from something that is ‘alien, large, and unpredictable.’  His ego in these poems is the ego of self-effacement, which often gives rise to the humorous tone of many of his poems.   The microcosm he creates is true to the macrocosm most of us know.

      Worley is at his best in rendering the ordinary and then converting it into something monumentally memorable, as in his poem about retirement, ‘Another 8-to-5 on the Porch of Our Cave Run Lake Cabin’:

All morning I happily crawl
through a book of Jim Harrison’s poems
and watch a tawny, fat orb weaver
fashion a net between shagbark hickory
and white ash.  Then it’s my job
to note nuthatches hopping down
the trunk of a sugar hackberry
to pillage the birdfeeder.  After a coffee
break, I  monitor the drinking binge
(the fake petals of our feeder irresistible)
of the ruby-throated hummingbird,
sit quiet as sandstone as two wild turkeys
flutter and primp in a spotlight of sun.
Next on y schedule is a 4:30 (I’m
right on time) with Johnny Walker, the one
drink I allow myself these days, which
helps me adjudicate the screeking
complaints of two plump jays bluffing
each other over a piece of rye toast.
Then a goldfinch, sleek shard of sun,
lands on the crossbeam four feet away
and looks me in the eyes for 25 seconds.

I sit back and let go a long breath.
This is the work I was born for.

As with the best poets, he is passionately in love with language, with getting it right, and often the spin or ‘English,’ to use a term from billiards, that can be put on a cue ball or a word.  By pairing acute perception with the well-chosen word, he helps us to see.

The black fly that is inadvertently caught when he closes his book forms
‘a perfect asterisk’ when he reopens it.

He is a master of turning a phrase that surprises and strikes the reader with its aptness:

You realize life can still poke you,
playfully but hard,
right in the raison d’etre.

An embarrassing moment he describes as being ‘frozen/in his own mind’s
dim headlights.’

Always there is the attentive eye:

His cat, perched in the crotch of a water maple, ‘tries to track/the fractured flight/ of a bat.’

Never obscure or rhapsodic, and unlike too many other contemporary poets, his poems are always accessibly human, in many ways, as the best poetry is, a celebration of being human and susceptible to the mysteries and miracles of our presence on the planet.  As we witness key moments in his life from birth through puberty, through courtship and marriage into career and retirement, his record in some ways becomes our own, igniting our own vessels of memory.  Another Lexingtonian, the late Guy Davenport,  said that ‘art is the replacement of indifference by attention.’   Jeff Worley’s attention sometimes wanders but it never falters, and this collection is among his best.  In this, his sixth book-length collection of poetry, Worley reaffirms his reputation as one of the most accomplished poets in Kentucky, helping to identify Lexington as possessing the state’s most active community of writers.
–Richard Taylor, former Kentucky Poet Laureate