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by Hillary Gravendyk
Omnidawn, $15.95 (paper)
When the speaker of “Botanica,” the first poem in this powerful debut, says, “Creature of occasion, remember where you have been,” she isn’t asking. This is a command—a spell cast for the unearthing of a self that has experienced a trauma so great, so vast (“She left the body / permissionless, dreaming”) that the body and mind are now “sutured to harm.” Like the reliability of the empirical world—invoked at first to create a ground for the speaker to ready herself before digging into the past—memory’s remnants of the previous self are called into question, but they remain the only path for re-engagement, no matter how fallible: “Absent clarity, I waver in the harsh light. But beloved error: a long braid of signs, given.” The poems in Harm repurpose familiar vocabulary to create a new way of navigating through the world, as in “The Big, The Bad,” where we experience the re-conception of “footstep” through a catalogue of similes: “Footstep like a crumpled page”; “Footstep like a mousetrap”; “Footstep like a wind tunnel”; “Footstep like a fire blooming.” Gravendyk takes what she finds at hand and tirelessly reconfigures it, adapts it, altering position as a way to multiply perspectives, seek insight, and expand the sense of the possible. How do we exist in a world that continuously harms us, and will never quite yield to the self? There is no one answer, no “cure,” Harm tells us—“only different kinds of wonder.”
Julie Kantor’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in A Public Space, Maggy, Foothill, and others. She is an instructor in writing and a PhD student in American Studies at the University of Texas, Austin.
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