96 pages, $18.00
Review by Anne Champion
The most difficult thing about reviewing Cynthia Atkins’s second book of poetry is choosing what to write about: this collection covers a broad and scenic terrain of topics including childhood, motherhood, family dysfunction, and life in the millennial age of the internet. Atkins crafts her poems with equal parts wit, wisdom, clarity, and tenderness, showcasing her range as a writer, both in form and in tone. Most poems follow a narrative structure; however, the collection reveals some lovely lyric moments alongside some musical litanies. According to Seb Doubinsky’s blurb on the back cover, these poems “glow in the dark a long time after you have finished reading them, illuminating your heart and guts from the inside.” I have to agree—these poems resonate deeply with their punch-packing lines.
The collection is divided into five sections, and each section contains a poem from a sequence titled “Family Therapy.” These poems serve as an anchor for the book, grounding it in realistically haunting family dramas. All five sections bravely tackle subjects such as grief and abuse with razor sharp clarity through original and surprising images. Consider these two passages, taken from “Family Therapy (I)” and “Family Therapy (IV)”:
“I am my sister. I am my brother.
I am my brother’s sister,
I am my mother’s keeper.
I hold the secrets. I am the writer.
I am the sister of a schizo-
phrenic. My elder split—
My sister taught me how
To shave my legs, little slits of blood
left like a lunchbox in the mud.”
“Hush, we’ll never tell,
yet deep down we know, the mind’s pain
is the last inconsolable and extra gene.
Rabid dog in the school yard—
Mean and mad and frothing.”