Like a well-wrought memoir, this medley of free- and fixed-verse poems combines vivid personal narrative with probing self-reflection.
“So, I did the thing / I would never do,” confesses a young dancer upon landing an art-smothering, body-pulverizing contract job in “Paid to Dance,” one of many seemingly autobiographical poems in Augustine’s debut collection. One can easily imagine the same confession from the older narrator sleeping with her friend’s husband in “Wine and Cheese Villanelle” or the jaded lover of “Sestina,” who “learned to play double, just like him.” Compromise and disillusionment are frequent themes here but so are resilience and learning, although the narrators are often too busy navigating their lives to recognize their growing wisdom. Augustine often layers the perspectives of the narrator, author and reader to bolster the poems’ realism and emotional sincerity, and it’s a technique she hones to near perfection. On rare occasions, the poet usurps the narrator and lapses into bathos: “As we sit at this café table / in Montmartre, sheltered / from the downpour, I see our future. / I will write it down on torn paper, / using a sapphire pen,” seemingly taking seriously Billy Collins’ satirical advice in his poem “The Student” that poets should, “[w]hen at a loss for an ending, / have some brown hens standing in the rain.” On the whole, however, Augustine demonstrates much greater control and precision as she works through multiple iterations of love and loss, employing to great effect forms as varied as the prose poem, the concrete poem, the villanelle, the sestina, the sonnet and the ballad. She reimagines fairy tales, evokes foreign lands through bodily sensation, valorizes women’s perseverance, and revels in the rollicking pleasures of sex, even when they come with risk. As her narrators age, she tightens the circle, mourning and celebrating with equal intensity. One narrator contemplates the “Three Things That Did Not Happen”: “I almost saw Nessie,” “I almost won the jackpot,” and “I almost had a child. / She was there in my womb / until chromosomes killed her. / My God, that would have been something.” Among the losses, though, it “appears gone for good are dramas and bothers, / threats and therapists, drunk, needy lovers. / And…lovely, lovely, lovely is my cat’s furry belly.”
Poetry that often transcends its own bounds, spilling over into readers’ lives and forcing them to confront their own narratives.