Brute

Emily Skaja. Graywolf, $16 (96p) ISBN 978-1-55597-835-8
Early in this lyrical debut, winner of the 2018 Walt Whitman Award, the speaker notes: “In my new life whatever I claimed/ I didn’t feel it was mine.” Skaja’s poems search for this “mine” as noun, adjective, and verb, exploring experiences of violence in an abusive relationship and their transformation into beauty. In one poem, the speaker names herself “a hairpin curve” and “cyanide stowed away in an apple seed”; in another, she reminds us that “to tell it once is not enough.” As the collection unfolds, a Greek chorus of named women appear as support, highlighting the strength found in community and shared experience, as well as the viewer’s tension of witnessing a relationship from the outside. In “[Remarkable the Litter of Birds]”, one of the book’s most moving examples of the complexity of self-making, an encounter with a member of this chorus leaves the speaker filling “my mouth with bees I tried to speak through the bees,” to name love and violence together without reducing them to one or the other. Skaja’s ability to hold contrasting feelings in relation yields the tenderness and triumph of this book. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 03/13/2019
Release date: 04/02/2019
Genre: Poetry
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