A year’s worth of daily poems in which Engel (co-author: Ritual, 2016, etc.) reflects on her successful battle with cancer.
Early on, this collection features a one-page, five-stanza poem titled “Pink,” about the “Bomb” that blew up the author’s daily routine: a diagnosis of cancer. Across 365 similarly short poems, Engel recounts the process of going through treatment, recovering emotionally, and trying to rebuild her life. (She clarifies that although the book is presented as a calendar year, many of the experiences come from a three-year period.) Throughout the poems, Engel touches on several recurring themes; for example, she often writes about the irony of having to ingest poisons (in the form of chemotherapy) to heal herself: “Instead of detox, / I think / I’ll call it: / Toxification,” she writes. She also offers her reactions to a common cancer fear: losing one’s hair (“After round two, / what’s a girl to do? / Except shave it off / into a mohawk”). In addition, she looks at her anxiety over reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy, and how her new body changed her views on gender identity. The author’s sharp wit and willingness to share her inner voice results in memorable, moving lines, such as “Cancer’s not failure, / just fertilizer, / and I’m the miracle / that can be found in the mud.” However, the fact that the book contains hundreds of poems of similar length and structure inevitably leads to a monotonous rhythm, which sometimes draws attention away from great turns of phrase. When Engel frees herself from these constraints, as when she provides practical, prose advice about chemotherapy and ostomies, she offers engaging thoughts about illness, the health care industry, and recovery.
A collection that often feels too standardized, but still provides powerful, personal insights about battling illness.