Brown (Death Is Not Our Holy Word, 2017, etc.) offers optimistic poetry about the realities of psychological illness.
“I can’t write a villanelle,” says the speaker in this collection’s final piece, “To the Reader.” However, the challenge of mastering the rhyme scheme of a Petrarchan sonnet is nothing compared to the pain of trauma, the horror of abuse, or the vertigo of the psychiatric unit, as evidenced in Brown’s devastating new book of verse on psychological illness. The collection’s greatest strength is the author’s wrenching honesty; it takes courage to reveal the realities of psychic pain, and these poems are braver than most in that regard. Such pain can fracture lives, and accordingly, Brown’s verse is often broken into quick, shattering bursts, as in “To My Trauma”: “5 years of mountains / strip-mined / from / childhood / sizzling with ugly / stares.” Here, the frequent line breaks stymie the regular flow of the words—a trick that he pulls off elsewhere with long spaces or slashes within lines. The effect, each time, is jarring but captivating. Yet the volume isn’t all about anguish; Brown also offers glimpses of recovery and rehabilitation, and nowhere so elegantly as in “The Trauma of Spiritual Flesh.” This long poem is built around two refrains: “I spoke to my trauma” and “I went where the hope lived,” with the first eventually giving way to the second. The poem articulates one of the collection’s main aspirations—that talking about our pain might lead to restoration. It concludes: “I spoke to my trauma; / I went where the hope lived; / and now all I can say is: / Your best day is still to come / give yourself a chance to live it.” It’s a message that many readers may find helpful.
A stirring exploration of trauma and healing.