Girls From the County – Donna Lynch

If ghosts exist, perhaps this is how it happens. The marks of things that happen in a place never really go away, nor do the pieces of us we leave there.

Girls From the County explores dark truths: personal stories and those of young women the author grew up with, as well as rural legends and folklore. It’s about trauma and the illusion of safety. Given the subject matter, this was at times a difficult read.

I had a number of favourite poems but my top five were Drag, Plot, Girls From the County, Education, and Thirty-two Years (Eighteen Years Reprise).

The one that’s probably going to stay with me the longest, though, is Grave. While it’s the shortest poem in the collection, it certainly packs a punch.

She grew up and became a mortician

so that when he finally died

she could make sure.

Content warnings include mention of addiction, death by suicide, mental health, murder, sexual assault and trauma.

Thank you so much to Raw Dog Screaming Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

This book is merely a record of dark events, the kind that you can sometimes move on from, yet can’t help but see in every old house, high school, or crumbling bridge.

In the county, eerie stillness can be mistaken for stagnation. In the county, rumination on pain and guilt can be confused with omens and curses. In the county, feelings of claustrophobia stem from understanding what the encroaching darkness brings with it.

You’ve heard of country girls, and city girls, but what of the forgotten girls from the in-between space of the county? Confronting the things too wild for urban areas, and too methodically malevolent for the countryside, girls from the county are often dismissed by popular narratives, left to solve riddles of grief and rage for themselves.

Known for weaving folk horror with confessional poetry, unflinching true crime approaches with myth and fable, contemporary appetites with gothic literature, award-winning author Donna Lynch has composed a lyrical reconstruction for readers to navigate the lives – and deaths – of girls from the county.

Fierce Fairytales: Poems and Stories to Stir Your Soul – Nikita Gill

In these short stories and poems you’ll find well known fairytales with insights into characters, backstories and different endings. Sleeping Beauty doesn’t wait for a Prince to awaken her; she does it herself. Jack is willing to face a giant to escape his abusive mother. Tinkerbell embraces her anger.

My absolute favourite was this empowering gem:

Once Upon a Time II

But the universe never promised
you this would be easy,
after all, you are the hero here.

And heroes are meant
to be forged golden
from the blaze.

It is up to you to rise again
from the fragmented shards
your foes left of you.

You must lift a sword
with reborn strength and take on
the demons in your ribcage.

You must devastate the chains
every violent person
has brutally placed on you.

And you must show them all
how they were simply
characters in your story.

But you, you are the author
of this spellbinding tale
built of hope and bravery.

Out there may be monsters, my dear.
But in you still lives the dragon
you should always believe in.

Each time I read it I can feel myself sit up straighter and the resolve to rise up gets stronger. I don’t usually quote an entire poem but I had to here. I love it!

Towards the end of the book I began to wonder if the author had run out of fairytales and was simply fuelled by anger. Poems like The Modern-day Fairytale and Ode to the Catcaller Down the Street felt like I was suddenly reading another book altogether, one that wasn’t enchanting and empowering, just mad. Perhaps if there were two sections in the book the shift would have been easier to process.

Some stories and poems fuelled my hope, showing me victims becoming survivors and villains humanised. Others left a bitter aftertaste. Life’s like that though. While we want our happily ever after, it’s not guaranteed. When we think we have nothing left we find reserves of strength we didn’t even know we possessed. Some things life chooses for us but it’s our choices that define us.

Content warnings include abuse, mental illness, trauma, alcoholism, betrayal, abandonment, bullying and eating disorders.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Poet, writer, and Instagram sensation Nikita Gill returns with a collection of fairytales poetically retold for a new generation of women. 

Traditional fairytales are rife with cliches and gender stereotypes: beautiful, silent princesses; ugly, jealous, and bitter villainesses; girls who need rescuing; and men who take all the glory.

But in this rousing new prose and poetry collection, Nikita Gill gives Once Upon a Time a much-needed modern makeover. Through her gorgeous reimagining of fairytale classics and spellbinding original tales, she dismantles the old-fashioned tropes that have been ingrained in our minds. In this book, gone are the docile women and male saviors. Instead, lines blur between heroes and villains. You will meet fearless princesses, a new kind of wolf lurking in the concrete jungle, and an independent Gretel who can bring down monsters on her own.

Complete with beautifully hand-drawn illustrations by Gill herself, Fierce Fairytales is an empowering collection of poems and stories for a new generation.

Soft Thorns – Bridgett Devoue

This collection of poems is divided into sections: bleed, love, scar, learn, heal. I was interested because a few of the themes interested me, especially when I learned the author has experienced chronic pain. I wanted to see how a poet would describe the experience of chronic pain but I never found out as, unless I missed something along the way, it was only mentioned in my letter to you.

I began to think this book wasn’t for me before I even read the first poem. During my letter to you I found

if i hadn’t hit my proverbial rock bottom, i would not have been able to plant my roots and grow upward.

Besides the lack of capitalisation, which is a huge turn off for me regardless of how incredible the writing is, I have a problem with the whole ‘rock bottom’ thing. I know it’s already reached maximum cliché level at this point but that’s not my concern. It’s the concept itself. Do we really need to fall as low as we possibly can in order to grow? Can’t we attempt to catch ourselves as we’re falling instead? Once I had my internal rant about that I moved on, hoping to be wowed by the poetry.

I wasn’t and I’m really disappointed. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Poetry is such a personal experience; what you hate I may love and vice versa. Whenever I begin any book I fully intend to adore it and word vomit to everyone who will listen to me about why they should read it and hopefully love it too. I hate it when that doesn’t happen.

I want to acknowledge that this author has explored some really painful experiences in writing these poems. It takes courage and resilience to excavate these and then share them with the world. Just because I didn’t find a connection with these poems doesn’t mean you won’t.

I did connect a little to some of the first group of poems but as soon as the love story and ultimate heartbreak began it was all over for me. If you’re in the midst of your own devastating breakup you may find these poems resonate with you but my icy heart wasn’t warmed and I certainly wasn’t keen to go looking for love after reading so much about the devastation of its demise. I think if I was going through a breakup a lot of these poems would actually make me feel worse about my situation.

Some of the shorter poems read to me like sentences, not poetry. A significant amount felt like matter of fact statements. I don’t want to be able to read one poem after another without having to pause and take in the beauty of the specific combination of words I’ve just experienced. I want something revolutionary. I want to experience at least one ‘wow, I’ve never thought of it that way!’ moment.

Granted I probably want too much from poetry but ultimately it boils down to wanting poetry to make me feel. I want to feel the poet’s joy, heartache, rage, passion, hope. I want to take the experience (if not the specific words) of the poetry with me when I close the book. I read this book straight through and I hate to say it but the only thing I’m taking away from it is gratitude that I’m happily single.

Content warnings include sexual assault and anorexia.

Thank you to NetGalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for the opportunity to read this book. I need to research whether a book of poetry is really for me rather than getting excited and jumping straight in without doing my homework.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The poetry living within these pages tells stories of love, heartbreak, freedom, oppression, sexual assault, sexism, hope, and humanity.  Our darkest times are where we grow the most, so in this book, I share mine, and together we learn how to heal.

Soft Thorns is a poetry collection that takes the reader on a journey through a young woman’s life – from reckoning with her looks and sexuality to dealing with the trauma of sexual assault, and finally through the highs and lows of young love found and lost. Bridgett Devoue shares her raw, human story and the lessons learned from living a life fully.

Light Filters In: Poems – Caroline Kaufman

Illustrations – Yelena Bryksenkova

Caroline Kaufman is probably better known (so far) by her Instagram profile @poeticpoison. Published while still a teenager, this book is a mixture of dark and light, heartache and hope. Poetry can be very hit and miss for me and I found that to be the case with this collection as well. I connected with some of her words so deeply that I could have written them myself when I was Caroline’s age.

I’ve spent so much time trying to become who I should be that I lost myself along the way.

Others I struggled with but that’s probably more indicative of my stony cold heart than Caroline’s writing ability. When I read about relationships and heartache it’s akin to a vampire feeling the warmth of sunlight on their skin.

This book is divided into four sections: the darkness falls, the night persists, the dawn breaks, and the sun rises. What I loved above all else is the honesty of these poems.

sometimes I imagine my younger self and I worry she wouldn’t recognize me.

Once upon a nitpick: One of my pet peeves is sentences that don’t begin with a capital letter. It bugs me whenever I see it and for some reason that baffles me it seems to be a cool thing to do these days. Some poems in this book include my beloved capital letters; others don’t.

This collection reminded me of the tumultuous experience of adolescence, a place I don’t like to visit. There’s a rawness to the writing that I really appreciated although overall I don’t feel as though I’m the target audience. I probably would have been when I was a teenager but a lot of the writing felt very young (and rightly so as the author is only 18). I hope that Caroline continues to write from her heart as the authenticity of her voice has the potential to impact a lot of young lives.

Content warnings are quoted below:

I talk about mental illness, self-harm, suicide, recovery, sexual assault, abusive relationships, violence, and other issues that may not be the easiest to swallow.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In Light Filters In, Caroline Kaufman – known as @poeticpoison – does what she does best: reflects our own experiences back at us and makes us feel less alone, one exquisite and insightful piece at a time. She writes about giving up too much of yourself to someone else, not fitting in, endlessly Googling “how to be happy,” and ultimately figuring out who you are.

This hardcover collection features completely new material plus some fan favourites from Caroline’s account. Filled with haunting, spare pieces of original art, Light Filters In will thrill existing fans and newcomers alike.

it’s okay if some things

are always out of reach.

if you could carry all the stars

in the palm of your hand,

they wouldn’t be

half as breathtaking

Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur

By now it seems as though this collection of poems are so popular that I don’t need to introduce them. You’ve likely either read them yourself, read multiple reviews already or at least have enough of an idea of its content. I kept hearing about this book and figured I’d catch up to the bandwagon and see what all of the fuss was about.

I appreciate the openness of this poet and the rawness of her work. A lot of the poems in the first of the four sections resonated with me and I liked some of the positivity of the final section, although some of the final section read like pop psychology to me. The middle sections didn’t speak to me at all but I expect that’s partly because I don’t do relationships and don’t particularly want to spend my time hearing about the drama of them or about people having sex. A lot of people love stuff like that but I’m just not one of them.

I really didn’t like most of the illustrations, probably because I didn’t like that one of the early ones featured a poem between a naked woman’s spread legs and wondered whether the poet considered this necessary to make their point. I also really, really don’t like it when people don’t use capital letters, especially for I and I’m. The lack of capitalisation bugged the hell out of me.

The ratings for this book clearly show that I’m in the minority here and that’s okay with me. I love that people experience the same book differently and I love reading reviews that show perspectives that I don’t share or wouldn’t have thought of myself. While I really connected to the poems that spoke to me of my own experiences there weren’t enough of them to make this book one I’d want to reread. I hope you get more out of it than I did.

Content warnings include sexual assault.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Milk and Honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. About the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It is split into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose. Deals with a different pain. Heals a different heartache. Milk and Honey takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look. 

Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism – Danielle Barnhart & Iris Mahan (editors)

Dear Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism,

It’s not you. It’s me. I tried to appreciate you for what you were but came to realise that you and I were simply not compatible. Not wanting to give up before giving us a chance I read you from cover to cover. I’ll admit that some sparks ignited here and there when I read passages such as:

“When a woman tells the truth, she is creating the possibility for more truth around her.”

Danielle Barnhart and Iris Mahan – from the Introduction

“From ashes rising, from rubble resounding, these bodies are borne and forged indestructible by the fires of demolition.”

from the Editor’s Note

Although I loved your cover and the diversity you showed in the awesome illustrations of women, I’m afraid we weren’t meant to be. You’re not what I’m looking for in poetry and that’s not your fault. You are what you are and I’m not asking you to change for me.

You remain true to yourself and there will be plenty of readers who will love you for it. The many voices within you have the potential to change perspectives and lives with their words. Reach out and take hold of those who will appreciate you for who you are.

Your anger, political in nature and righteous, made me want to draw away rather than step closer. I respect your anger. You’ve earned it and have the right to voice it. Maybe you can’t see the possibility of light in the distance and in the circumstances that’s understandable.

However I need to be able to see, even if only in my imagination, that there is a light shining brightly and that it is possible for us to reach. The promise of the light is what motivates me to keep moving and striving for change. For others having what’s wrong with this picture placed in front of them is what they need to search for the pieces that will make the wrong right.

Let’s face it; what we’ve done in the past hasn’t worked out so well for us. Regardless of how it happens our goal is the same. We’re just on different paths to the same destination. I have to believe we will make it to the light of our destination.

I wish you many inspired people who will take up the mantle with you and accompany you on your path towards change.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and OR Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A collection with a feminist ethos that cuts across race, gender identity, and sexuality.

Creative activists have reacted to the 2016 Presidential election in myriad ways. Editors Danielle Barnhart and Iris Mahan have drawn on their profound knowledge of the poetry scene to put together an extraordinary list of poets taking a feminist stance against the new authority. What began as an informal collaboration of like-minded poets – to be released as a hand bound chapbook – has grown into something far more substantial and ambitious: a fully fledged anthology of women’s resistance, with proceeds supporting Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Representing the complexity and diversity of contemporary womanhood and bolstering the fight against racism, sexism, and violence, this collection unites powerful new writers, performers, and activists with established poets. Contributors include Elizabeth Acevedo, Sandra Beasley, Jericho Brown, Mahogany L. Browne, Danielle Chapman, Tyehimba Jess, Kimberly Johnson, Jacqueline Jones LaMon, Maureen N. McLane, Joyce Peseroff, Mary Ruefle, Trish Salah, Patricia Smith, Anne Waldman, and Rachel Zucker.

She Used to Be on a Milk Carton – Kailey Tedesco

Illustrations – Whitney Proper

You know that book that makes you feel like your brain has liquefied and is slowly draining from your ears with every page you read and by the end you are fairly certain that you qualify for the Dumbest Person on the Planet award? I just finished it.

Do you want to know what this book of poetry is about? Me too! I don’t know why She Used to Be on a Milk Carton. Maybe she was lost, just like I was while I carefully read each poem trying to extract its meaning. I know what the blurb said and I know I was really interested in reading these poems.

There were a couple of poems where it’s possible I may have cottoned on to the central theme but I’m afraid I needed someone to dumb it down for me. There was a girl in my English class who would write poems that she read to the class frequently. I never understood those either but my teacher practically fell over herself declaring their literary masterpiece worthiness.

I assume these poems were very well written and that people much smarter than myself will rave about how full of deep and meaningful ideas they were. I’m certain that English teacher could wax lyrical about every poem in this book. If you read these poems after checking out someone else’s review (preferably someone who can actually provide valuable feedback about this book) I really hope you love it.

Personally I’m going to go find a sponge to mop up as much of my brain as possible and hope I can find a way to reverse the liquefaction process.

Thank you to NetGalley and April Gloaming Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Between body and spirit, place and soul, love and trauma, and logic and magic, Kailey Tedesco finds herself between two worlds in this stunning collection of debut poetry. Treading the line between the dual nature of our human spirit, this collection brings to light what our physical, and then spiritual, selves’ place is in the cosmos and the realm beyond our immediate sight.

Through images of Catholicism, heavenly bodies, caul births, dark magic, serpents, and God, Tedesco challenges what it means to be Woman in a world so clouded by opposing truths, illuminating herself and elevating our human experience.

The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One – Amanda Lovelace

⚠️ Warning – High Probability of Unpopular Opinions Ahead ⚠️

I’ve read Amanda Lovelace’s the witch doesn’t burn in this one twice now. I wasn’t familiar with Amanda’s poetry and was intrigued so read it immediately after I downloaded it. I had strong contradictory feelings about it and wanted to know how I’d feel after it sat with me for a while and then reread it. So, here we are straight after the reread.

My review may well feel like one big soapbox moment but if this book has reminded me of anything it’s that I am entitled to speak my truth and you are just as entitled to speak yours, whether we agree or not.

What I Loved

Content Warning – I really respect an author who knows the content of their writing may be triggering for some and points it out at the beginning so readers can make an informed choice about the suitability of that book for them personally. This book came with a detailed trigger warning for topics including: “child abuse, intimate partner abuse, sexual assault, eating disorders, trauma, death, murder, violence, fire, menstruation, transphobia & more.”

The Girl Power – I’m all about women speaking their truth. I love anyone of any gender overcoming adversity and stereotypes to achieve what others told them was impossible for them. I love strong role models and people who are able to transform what could have destroyed them into something that’s able to inspire others.

This Book Being Published – Just the fact that a woman who’s openly refuting the patriarchy and speaking her passionate truth has had her words published for anyone who wants to read them is a triumph. Sure, western society as a whole has a long, long way to go in terms of equality, glass ceilings, you name it. But this book has been published. This woman has not been silenced. We are free to read or not read it, and we are free to have our own opinions about it, even if they differ from other people.

What I Didn’t Love

The Generalisation of Men – While I certainly acknowledge the unfathomable acts that some men have perpetrated against women and have known my fair share of them, I also want to acknowledge all of the men that don’t fit in the perpetrator category. I know some extraordinary men who I know I could trust with my life and I don’t think it’s fair to make sweeping statements that are true of some but certainly not all. Yes, I realise this book isn’t about the trustworthy, respectful men but sometimes I worry that by generalising and only pointing out the bad (that I don’t deny is there), we forget to recognise those who have a positive impact on those whose lives they touch.

The Style of Poetry – By all of the positive feedback this collection is receiving it’s obvious this poet and her writing is resonating with a lot of people. It’s just not the type of poetry I typically enjoy and while I felt like shouting out a “Woohoo! Girl power!” at the beginning, by the end the almost constant rage against patriarchy and men exhausted me. There were a couple of instances of positivity such as “we can’t lose our empathy” and “you can be benevolent & love this world back to life”, but I felt emotionally and physically drained when I finished reading.

If you loved this book and were empowered by it, that’s fantastic. I do expect it will be very well received by plenty of people. I think in the end it boils down to this book and I not being made for one another.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The witch: supernaturally powerful, inscrutably independent, and now – indestructible. These moving, relatable poems encourage resilience and embolden women to take control of their own stories. Enemies try to judge, oppress, and marginalize her, but the witch doesn’t burn in this one.

Depression & Other Magic Tricks – Sabrina Benaim

poetry and i usually don’t mix / we repel like opposing ions / my synapses don’t fire / when sparked by verse / however / a flame was lit at the start / kindled by depression and anxiety / yet heartbreak’s oxygen did not fan the flames / satisfied yet / desiring more like / explaining my depression to my mother / a conversation

i don’t know sabrina benaim / never heard her voice / yet depression and i are old buddies / we dance around each other / and make somber music / in the dark recesses of my mind / we love yet hate / one another but / we continue our duet

at times i am sure my getaway car / has obscured my shadow in dust / then i turn the corner / and the sunlight causes me / to glance behind with horror / my shadow has grown large / absorbing the light / and creeps closer / as it follows / sabrina you exhale with eloquence / shine light upon the dark / adjust focus so we can see / the hope depression conceals

anxiety can pick me / out of a line up / loneliness of knowing / in a crowded room / i’m the only one / from my tribe / despair at lack / of understanding / treated like a curiosity / different / not enough

heartbreak / a foreign land / i am an alien there / yet made clear / by hearing sabrina

dark / depression / loneliness / heartbreak / anxiety / despair / swirl into one / flood of emotion / aching / desert of nothingness / numbness / muddy clay that distorts / yet resilience / hope / light

gratitude / netgalley / gratitude / button poetry / gratitude / independent book publishers association / my thoughts for free / lasting impression / set aside other words / drink in this offering / to be returned to again / and again / to sip / to guzzle / to absorb / no regrets

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Depression & Other Magic Tricks is the debut book by Sabrina Benaim, one of the most-viewed performance poets of all time, whose poem “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” has become a cultural phenomenon with over 5,000,000 views. 

Depression & Other Magic Tricks explores themes of mental health, love, and family. It is a documentation of struggle and triumph, a celebration of daily life and of living. Benaim’s wit, empathy, and gift for language produce a work of endless wonder

Poetry for Kids: Robert Frost – Jay Parini (editor)

Illustrations – Michael Paraskevas

Poetry for Kids: Robert Frost is the latest in a Poetry for Kids series, with previous books featuring poetry by Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman. This book contains 30 of Frost’s poems, prefaced by an introduction of Frost’s life and inspiration for his poetry, and followed by short explanations of each poem’s meaning in a section titled ‘What Robert Was Thinking’. There are definitions included with each poem for words children (and adults) may not be familiar with.

This book is part of an established series so obviously there must be a children’s market for this type of book but personally I would have preferred to see this book marketed as a gift book. Without the ‘for Kids’ branding I think the market would have opened right up for this book.

The audience for this book is listed as 8+ but I know I wouldn’t have appreciated this book as a child. At 8 I was reading Roald Dahl, not poetry books, and I don’t think that’s so unusual.

My fear for this book is that it may be used in schools to teach poetry at kids instead of to kids, and that could ruin Robert Frost for them. I say this because the only poetry I’ve ever hated with a passion have been poems taught to me. I always baulked at a teacher telling me emphatically what the poet meant by each word, line by line. I wanted to have the opportunity to think about the poem myself and decide what it meant to me, and always wondered if the poet actually intended the poem to be interpreted the way my teacher said was the only way, the right way.

Digressing, that reminds me of a story about Alfred Hitchcock helping his granddaughter write an essay for film school about his movie Shadow of a Doubt. Her grade? C. So the story goes, he shrugged and said, “That’s the best I can do”.

Anyway … I grew up adoring The Road Not Taken but that was mostly because my Nan used to quote it all of the time and I’d often read the photocopied poem stuck to a wall in her house with Blu-Tack. I don’t know I would have liked it as a kid without my Nan’s influence.

Michael Paraskevas’ illustrations are absolutely wonderful! They complement the poetry beautifully. I think adults will like them better than kids though. It’s only as an adult that I appreciate artwork like this.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Quarto Publishing Group – MoonDance Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A collection to be read, experienced, and treasured. 

Whether capturing a cold New England winter’s evening, or the beauty of an old, abandoned house, four-time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Frost left an indelible mark on our consciousness. This stunning celebration of his best-loved work includes 35 poems specially chosen for children ages 8 to 14 by author and historian Jay Parini.

Illustrator Michael Paraskevas brings the poems to life with his pitch-perfect scenes, infused with majestic color and quiet simplicity. Poems include “Mending Wall,” “Birches,” “The Road Not Taken,” “Fire and Ice,” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,”

This gentle introduction also includes commentary, definitions of key words, and an introduction to the poet’s life.