Bestiary

Donika Kelly. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-55597-758-0
In her astounding debut, Kelly, winner of the 2015 Cave Canem Prize, catalogs creatures familiar and mythical as she turns monsters into recognizable portraits of humankind . The poems employ language that sinks its teeth in at vulnerable moments, easily piercing the tenderest spots: “Freedom is a thread of light snaking/ the canyon like an ant through a conch.” Despite the collection’s eponymous grounding theme, Kelly doesn’t strictly use mythology to teach a moral lesson. She sets the tone with “Catalogue,” outlining with care the anxiety and excitement of growing up: “You grow. You are large./ You are a 19th century poem./ All of America is inside you.” Poems such as “Fourth Grade Autobiography” explore childhood memories with precision and clarity. Kelly’s speaker recalls flashes of neighborhood parties at a time when youthful innocence starts to crack. “My favorite things are cartwheels, salted plums,/ and playing catch with my dad,” she writes. “I am afraid/ of riots and falling and the dark.” The compact scenes of the poem “How to Be Alone” burn like a hot knife to an open wound; the speaker’s loneliness becomes armor in the wake of her mother’s death and father’s violent transgressions. Kelly’s creatures howl and whimper as she imparts emotional truths: “Love,/ I pound the Earth for you. I pound the Earth.” (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/03/2016
Release date: 11/01/2016
Genre: Fiction
Ebook - 978-1-55597-953-9
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