Flood Letters by Karin Gottshall (A Review by Aiden Arata)

Argos Books


In an age when apocalyptic threats have become a plague unto themselves—whether one kneels at the alter of spirituality, science, or general confusion—a collection of letters from a protagonist beyond salvation may seem like overkill.  Karin Gottshall’s second collection of poetry, however, reminds us of the true weight of rapture: Flood Letters demurely and achingly catalogues the final transmissions of a hurricane survivor, stretching the narrator’s consciousness into animal and divine worlds as she fights to remain human under the forces of nature. Flood Letters is quite possibly the most openly desperate manuscript I’ve read in a long time. The words’ power lies not in the clamor of despondency, however, but in its quiet. There’s little bite; this is a gentle mauling. It seems a shame to break up the collection, and I’m compelled to at least quote the piece “Dear Lucidity, no one else” in its entirety:

Dear Lucidity, no one else

to say they saw it or didn’t, but this

gray morning a starved


white horse came wading up

the empty street. Two if you count


his reflection. Horses are rare

enough that I’m willing

to count it, especially as it stayed


awhile after the flesh horse

had passed, grazing on the oily

remains of the border hedge.


Then dispersed when the heavier

rain began. Such deluge. I wanted


a horse when I was young. I had

the usual dreams of small

girls. I’d nearly forgotten.


He never waded back—headed

Toward the flooded industrial


yards, the strip mall that burned

in the first storms.


Gottshall’s language echoes that of an increasingly lonely world, sparse and tender, and her lines seem both aware of the small space they assume and more powerful for it. Most pieces are less than a page long and balance meticulous composition with a dreamlike quality that mirrors the patent lap of water, the lull of constant rain.  Gottshall understands both the appeal and the repulsion of giving up; each piece bristles with the quiet kinetics of keeping each in check. Starvation, cold, and the dead world strip away everything the narrator has, yet her weak grip on civilization seems more hopeful than pitiful. This is the magic of Flood Letters: the speaker holds on. We see a soul one step beyond capitulation, the need to exist as a creator, the hope of futile correspondence. The reader is compelled to reply.


Aiden Arata studies literature at NYU. Her writing has appeared on the Bon Appétit blog.