The story of a woman’s sexually exciting and dangerous connection with a dominating man, told entirely in free verse.
Evangeline feels as if she’s a secondary character in her own life. Her prudish, no-nonsense boyfriend, Jesse, has their lives planned out, including her giving up her publishing job to have his children. His sister, June, is also her best friend; she’s loving but dismissive, engrossed in her own plans to wed a brilliant artist and demanding Evangeline’s presence and service at the drop of a hat. Then Evangeline catches the attention of handsome and notorious Landon Kelly at a show at his art gallery, and she’s enthralled by his commanding personality when it focuses on her. They have a passionate affair, but it becomes clear that behind Landon’s playful exterior is something cruel and even violent. However, she’s addicted to his attention and emotionally unable to turn to Jesse or June for help. As the relationship threatens her living situation and career, Evangeline must look within to save herself. At first blush, Danvers’ debut may seem like yet another Fifty Shades of Grey clone, but its approach is intriguingly unusual, as it tells its popular yet familiar story entirely in free verse. This stylistic choice brings out the steamy passion and charged eroticism of Evangeline and Landon’s problematic relationship even as it becomes unhealthy. The downside to this poetic presentation is that moments of exposition, such as an early section about Jesse’s job, stand in stark contrast to erotic or emotional scenes. Although the book does a good job of capturing raw sensuality, it also impressively focuses on just how torturous a relationship can be—as when Evangeline waits for a text message (“For nearly another week / I wait / and wait / and wait /… / The realization dawns on me / I’ll never be good enough”), struggles with guilt, or simply wrestles with the desire to finally tell Landon “no.”
An offbeat work that embraces the poetic possibilities of dark, erotic fiction.
A collection of poetry focuses on everyday beauty and wonder.
Over the course of 50 poems with straightforward titles, retired high school English teacher Hathwell (Between Dog and Wolf, 2017, etc.) explores the world around him. Nature is a touchstone of his poetry. In “Poplar,” he expertly describes the titular tree “catching a breeze, flutter sage and silver wings” while in “Sunflower,” he lingers on the “wide blank face” of the “saddest flower.” The author also showcases culture in his poems. “Fred’s Girl” is a propulsive ode to the Fred Astaire–Paulette Goddard duet in the film Second Chorus, and “Sunday at the Symphony” captures the ethereal experience of live classical music. But the poems aren’t limited to the author’s immediate surroundings. A visit to the Spanish Steps, where Keats died in 1821, is the subject of “Readiness Is Everything,” which encourages readers to “imagine the world without you.” Hathwell plays with humor in “Dust Is Winning,” about the futile fight to keep things clean, and shows his cynical side in “Red Dress,” which describes the “ruby radiance” of an ensemble depicted in advertising. The act of writing is another recurring theme in this collection. “Song” depicts a successful writing day, in which “I rise from my desk, / Majestic, and I dance,” while “Sure Thing” warns readers “that language is prepared to lie / When you ask it to.” Quiet moments are also rich material for the poet. Throughout, he matches his message to the pacing of the poem, creating an immersive experience for readers. In “Finding Myself in the Morning,” readers sink into Hathwell’s serene, solitary scene where he can finally “not wonder / who is speaking, or what comes next.” In “Ten O’Clock,” the audience can sense the descent into a “deep, forgiving sleep.” The one flaw of this collection is its breadth. Because everything from Astaire to flora is fair game, the individual poems don’t always flow from one to the next, and transitions can be jarring.
Like the demigod from which it takes its name, Defining Atlas is a durable, uplifting volume.
A strong current of self-affirmation, self-love, and self-confidence runs through this work, and readers will come away feeling their spirits improved. We feel some of this current in the clever “Limited”; Michaels takes the titular subject and turns it on its head: “I’m new, but I’m old / Not limited beyond my means and methods / But limited because I’m special / Special beyond the heavens and everything that surrounds me / That I’m among…limited.” Elsewhere in “From the ashes…I am,” he sings a hard-won song of renewal and rebirth: “I am victory in its rawest form / I am hope that never conform / I am the will, the drive, and the truth / I am like everyone, like you.” But Michaels does not hoard specialness or victory for himself; he wants it for his reader too, and in “Wake Up!” he urges us on toward a bright future: “There’s something good here for you / Your purpose can never be defined by just one blue / Your destiny awaits you.” Underpinning Michaels’ stirring message is a strong faith in God, whose presence infuses many of the poems here: “But I always thank God for the latter / For the strength and will it takes / Shines so bright / Shines so right.” Michaels often adopts a loose scheme of rhyming couplets, and this decision leads to one of the book’s few weaknesses. Too often, the poet picks awkward or odd pairings; e.g., “And if I could become a perfect saint / I would make believers out of the ones who say they ain’t” and the “you/blue” couplet mentioned above. But such missteps are infrequent, and they don’t dim the warm light that emanates from Michaels’ fine volume.