Flannery O’Connor once commented in a conversation about the mystic philosopher Simone Weil: “I would like to write a comic novel about a woman—and what could be more comical or terrible than an angular intellectual proud woman approaching God inch by inch grinding her teeth?” Later, however, O’Connor admitted: “My heroine already is, and is Hulga.”
The Hulga to whom O’Connor refers is the protagonist of her short story about the odd workings of God’s grace, “Good Country People.” Hulga is also the center of Rita Mae Reese’s new collection of poems, which won the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry from the University of Wisconsin Press.
To fully understand Reese’s work, familiarity with O’Connor is helpful, if not necessary. Although Reese provides notes about O’Connor and Weil at the end of the book, I found myself having to reread “Good Country People” and to shamelessly Google the names and incidents in O’Connor’s life cited in particular poems. Some effort, therefore, is necessary for the reader to navigate through these often allusive poems. However, the poems reward the persistent reader.