University of Georgia Press. 2013. 59 pages.

Reviewed by Trista Edwards

Veteran painter, novelist, and poet Clarence Major’s thirteenth collection of poems, Down and Up, constructs a visual world of spatial representations and the mental and physical dwellings that take place within those landscapes. Within these spaces, Major always seems to hint at the societal mantra, the grass is always greener. What Major brings to pass, however, is that his characters are not concerned with getting to the other side, so to speak, but with the passage it takes to get there—with the movement, rather than the destination.

In the collection’s title poem, “Down and Up,” the speaker details the host of people both descending and unascending a staircase. As the title suggests, it remains the up and down, the motion, that preoccupies not the destination. In section one, titled “Descending a Staircase,” Major gives us the following:

For the sake of art,

another woman, nursing her baby, comes down.

A man descends while reading a book

about sin and redemption.

They all come down,

down,

down

where everybody else is waiting to ascend.

In the second section, “The Unascending Staircase,” the speaker begins the poem positions in stasis: “No one is going up—yet.” These characters are different; they are not moving, they are waiting:

The Calvinist minister must first finish her sermon.

The old woman with one shoe must stand up.

The man refinishing antique furniture

will try his luck when he finishes.

The bejeweled wealthy woman

may be too heavy for the staircase.

She stands on the landing,

inspecting the first step for its sturdiness.

Here is a young woman,

a pimple on the tip of her nose,

skeptical eyes, tight lips,

dimples, and fat cheeks.

She’s waiting for her intended.

They are intent on moving

one way or two ways.

Interestingly, the characters descending in section one appear to be in the act of completing a pleasurable, hedonistic, or life-fulfilling task—nude or not, they tend to come down, a woman c