Prey

Jeanann Verlee. Black Lawrence, $15.95 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-62557-802-0
Verlee (Said the Manic to the Muse) exorcises the demons of her personal traumas in her third collection, holding past predators accountable amid a withering critique of toxic masculinity. She explores violence and violation, as well as how the suffering from abuse is both physical and psychological. In a series of poems that purport to have been written while held in various predators’ jaws, the speaker states: “I worried myself mad./ Whispered through each day/ cautious as a skittery hooved creature.” Verlee’s “Ode to My Mother’s Backhand” is a brilliant and disturbing reminder that abuse often begins in childhood, establishing a lifelong connection between love and violence in the victim: “Such precision, even in beer-battered rage,/ to spin my jaw in whichever direction called.” She writes bravely and heartrendingly about how difficult it can be to break free from abusers (“I was an orchard of forgiveness.// An orchestra of yes and yes and yes”) but is at her best when she embraces her own strength while dynamically channeling her rage into words; readers may wish for more moments of the kind, which are regrettably brief and few. Throughout, Verlee’s anger is vivid and palpable, and her depiction of the cycle of abuse is as illuminating as it is unsettling. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/16/2018
Release date: 08/01/2018
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