Childhood and womanhood star in this notable debut collection of precise, passionate poems.
In 43 poems, this collection paints an emotional portrait of turbulent childhood and liberated adulthood. Singer’s alcoholic father gambled too much, and her adulterous mother was never fully present. Her language here is at first opaque, never literal: “As a child I saw every night / wear a mask, I heard the screams / of an eyeless wind, laughing.” Still, her metaphors are clear enough to communicate that this childhood was a dark one. The poems contain allusions but remain compelling. While some early poems in the collection speak of “you,” referring to her parents, once Singer unfastens herself and basks fully in the first person, the daring of her poetry escalates. In “My Shivah,” she writes, “I am the most solid of corpses, / cross my heart, I pull at my entrails.” Elsewhere, in the wild declarative poem “I Am,” Singer catalogs and mourns the potent relationships of women among women; “I am with women, not bitching about women,” she says. Singer favors imagery common in the currency of poetry—bodies, maps, keys, locks, hearts—but manages to make those references feel fresh on the page, with images echoing throughout the collection. The range of poems is subtle, and they only slightly vary in length, though the passionate voice is consistent. The largest criticism could be that the opaque poems only scratch the surface of Singer’s biography, which includes a violent childhood, time in the Hasidic sect, depression, and the choice to temporarily leave her children in order to pursue an education. The more searching, revealing poems offer an opening into Singer’s world, which, hopefully, she’ll mine further.
A strong, unique female voice supports these poignant poems.