Review by Corey Pentoney
What, exactly, makes a poem? A hotly debated topic, surely, but one that always deserves a little attention. Can a poem be a single line? Absolutely. Alberto Rio published a great piece about that on Poets.org. A poem that takes up an entire book is often called epic, and usually contains men in armor slaying each other with blood-ripping swords. After my third reading of Heather Knox’s first book, Dowry Meat, I’m starting to think that it is an epic in a sense, and I will say that it is best enjoyed in its entirety. That is, perhaps one of the most interesting things about this book—besides the poems themselves, or itself—is that it feels like one whole, living, breathing beast. And what a beast it is.
: Where do stories begin? Let me try:
once I pretended I could lightning. I broke
my mother’s heart. She would never tell me this.
I spent years practicing unshattering for her, silent.
Reading Knox’s poems for the first time was akin to not having my homework done and being expected to give a report on a book I had never read; it clubbed me over the head and dragged me to the principal’s office. It left me curious, intrigued, and full of emotions and images. Every word and phrase must have been chosen so very carefully to be at once obfuscating and yet entirely revealing of a deeper meaning, not always in the poem, but rather in the reader. Knox keeps her secrets close, won’t give anything away for free, but instead the entire book a battle, and many of the poems wouldn’t reveal their secrets to me until I had pored over them—and myself in their reflection—several times over. Don’t get me wrong; that’s not to say that it’s not an enjoyable read. It is. But there are easy reads and there are tough reads, and this one is tough as iron.
her tongue, tacked butterfly,
open : writhe.
Read Dowry Meat. Please, please, read it. Just, don’t read it once. Read it two or three times; read it four times. Keep it by your bed and read five pages every night before you go to sleep until you’ve lost count of how many times you have read it. The most important thing I learned from Knox’s work is that there is no right answer for this book and every time you think you’ve found it, some other voice will barge into your head and say “Yes, but…”. I can’t really tell you what it’s about or what kinds of messages you’re supposed to get from it. What I gleaned from these poems is likely the exact opposite of what you might glean. I do know that, at its core, lies an echo of change and growth and the pain that comes along with it. The mouths/words that spoke this echo in the first place are hard to find, but truly worth the effort. Dowry Meat is—in my eyes—one long, epic poem, a powerful echo of the battle that went into its writing that will reverberate in my head for years.
When he’s not grading papers or cooking waffles, Corey Pentoney can be found at his desk, in his snow-locked house, sucking the last ounces of warmth from a cup of tea.