cover image TENDER HOOKS


Beth Ann Fennelly, . . Norton, $23.95 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-393-05862-8

The pun of the collection's title probes a predominating theme: the messy, sometimes angry and frequently euphoric terrain of new motherhood. The first poem, "Bite Me," displays Fennelly's characteristic earthy brashness: "finally I burst at the seams/ and you were out/ Look, Ha, you didn't kill me after all/ Monster I have you." Like Plath minus the lyricism or Sharon Olds minus the sweet aftertaste, Fennelly doesn't flinch from showing the darker side of mothering, not just the can't-see-straight exhaustion and the anxiety of new parenthood, but the fury of both infant and mother: "No one ever mentioned she's out for blood. I wince/ as she tugs milk from ducts all the way to my armpits." The wrath is marched in equal doses by evidence of primal, physical love: "I whispered in her see-through ear/ I'd keep her safe forever—/ I, her first lover." The two middle sections of the collection include poems of place, parents, love, followed by a long, meandering poem that juxtaposes the Bible, miscarriage, teaching writing and the new baby. The book's last section returns to the (stronger) material of parenting and ends on an intentionally mixed note: responding to a commonsensical voice that says infancy, like the pangs of childhood, eventually fade into memory, Fennelly's speaker declares, "Fine, I say, not meaning it. I'll have another." (Apr.)