cover image Sympathetic Little Monster

Sympathetic Little Monster

Cameron Awkward-Rich. Ricochet (SPD, dist.), $15 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-938-90017-4

This strong debut from Awkward-Rich moves deftly within the realm of deep self-scrutiny as it addresses such topics as racial tension and gender identification. Throughout, Awkward-Rich maintains a consistent awareness of his own narrative and of its power. "I could/ change the ending/ daffodils./ marigolds," he writes. The tension comes from the awareness of self-construction and the simultaneous lack of control over one's body and classifications. Awkward-Rich writes of medicine and "pills for that," suggesting attempts to control what's inside the body, too. He longs for a way "To carry an image of ourselves/ inside ourselves & know exactly what we mean/ when we say I." The great question that occupies the collection's speaker is simply how not to feel split. The speaker's gender in particular permeates many poems as a resonating source of turmoil ("Let's get the obvious out of the way%E2%80%94you were a girl & then you weren't"). Such profoundly personal narration in debuts has been done%E2%80%94and will be done again%E2%80%94but Awkward-Rich's rawness and dexterity in conveying complex issues push his verse beyond stereotypes. "I don't trust anyone/ who has never learned the person can't be separated// from the rot," he writes, a bleak pronouncement that encapsulates how deeply these poems%E2%80%94with their decay, specters, and darkness%E2%80%94will haunt readers. (Apr.)