1. Emily Blewitt is a wonderful Welsh woman (that’s alliteration for those who care). I had the pleasure of meeting her in Belfast when the two of us were workshopping poems. Hers stood out. I knew she had a book slated for publication, so I asked her to send me word when it was published.
2. I don’t do this often. I’m not exactly competitive, but, to borrow from Morrissey, I hate it when friends are successful. I suppose jealous is the right word, though I’m really only jealous when people publish books ahead of me and their books are not good. If a good writer gets something in print, well, I can only be jealous of their talent, not their success.
3. Emily Blewitt is certainly a good writer. A damn good one. I’ll even call her a poet, which is a word I have a bit of trouble with. It seems one has to earn that title. She’s earned it. I knew as much when I read her poems last year at the workshop, and this was further confirmed when I read This is Not a Rescue, her debut collection.
4. The title poem is striking. I mean, kicking off a poem (and a book) with “I want to tell you that it will not be as you expect” is a smart move. Aside from asking the reader to catch up, which is to say, asking them to engage, a line like this is a sort of meta announcement to abandon expectations. Whether or not this was intentional, the effect on this reader was to subvert any assumptions I had about the book, the poem, poetry, and whatever else was going on with me when I sat down to read. And while the poem goes on to be nothing as meta as what I have stated above, it’s images allure. I was in, but “How to Marry a Welsh Girl” only further pulled at me.
5. “How to Marry a Welsh Girl” does not too heavily lean on the accumulation of things, which is good. I love making lists and using concrete things as a means of creating a scene. Tom Waits once wrote of this over-attention to detail. He likes songs that tell you exactly how many cigarette butts are in the ashtray. In this sense, how could I not adore:
“...For dowry you take what you can,
get what you’re given: the chapel, prolific sheep, jackdaws, circling
hills and black mountains, the usual ropey singing
at the pub they don’t speak English in, cheese and pickle
cocktail sticks, pasties, corned beef.”
When she gets to the act of carving a lovespoon, I had to find out if this is indeed a thing. (For those who are, as I was, unfamiliar with this custom, go look it up for yourself. It’s more than worth a google.)
6. An editor once told me that my poems rely too much on listing. Blewitt does this with a deft hand. Damn her.
7. “The Walking Wed” is clever. It created a sense of dread with its wedding as zombie apocalypse concept that also brought a giggle, though re-readings make it seem less clever than accomplished. I hate clever poems that have little to offer aside from a simple idea, usually a joke. And I love jokes. I love humor in poetry. It’s an undervalued thing to throw into a poem, but so many clever poems feel empty, a joke strained. Thankfully, this is not one of those poems.
8. Weddings are nice, right? They pop up in this book, sure, but the sensuality of “Navigation Points” is a nicely balanced shift from the spectacle of weddings to a private intimacy:
“You lower your long dark lashes
just once: to trace your route
across my skin.
Those moles, you say,
fine points for navigation.
You’ll map my constellations, you explain,
know me anywhere.”
I’ve seen poems that go a bit overboard with the sort of thing. I’m no prude, but there’s a line between sensual and dull. It gets crossed easily by lesser poets.
9. Furthering the love poetry is “Lines” which has a moment that makes me wonder if Blewitt (or the speaker of the poem, as there’s no guarantee that the speaker is Emily Blewitt, though readers tend to assume that a poem is always presented by the poet, forgetting that dramatic monologue is a thing) is being sincere when she speaks of loving her lover’s receding hairline “as it shows me more of you.” It reminds me of poems men have written to their beloveds, the ones teeming with hyperbolic details about the perfections and imperfections of the female body. Those of us who’ve tried honeydripping in the past might, with a poem like "Lines," get a sense of what it’s like to receive the woo rather than be the pitcher. While I’m confident this role-reversal was not Blewitt’s intention, I nevertheless found this small detail interesting. Note to self: go back to your old love poems and reconsider the Nerduaesque bits.
10. As the reader (well, this reader) gets deep into the collection, an idea of the book’s concerns begins to form. And then a pair of poems—“Sometimes I Think of Chapel” and “Forgiveness”— thwart our certainty. All those lovely poems, those weddings, those tender moments, those funny subversions of Jane Aust3n and The Walking Dead (and, later, Star Wars, but we’ll get to that) are gone now as we shift to the theme of past trauma. The mother, who removes her daughter from the chapel where just one damn stanza ago everything seemed so innocent, prays: “let her never learn to kneel”; the speaker channels her parents:
“I am my mother’s daughter. I forgive
the man, my grandmother who let him in,
who called my mother a bloody liar
This forgiveness boils into vindictive punishment before we’re permitted the relief of looking away.
11. These themes make a fine stew. Allusions to literary (Jane Austen heroes in “Devouring Jane”) and popular culture (“The Walking Wed”) find their ultimate expression in “Boba Fett and the Sarlacc,” a Star Wars reference I was happy to see, for a change. A fine poem, though rereading it this morning reacquainted me with the preceding work “The Couple Opposite” which, in its opening lines, called to mind Rear Window before the real magic of the poem did its thing. Being an artist is akin to being an extrovert in the sense that artists have something strange within them that demands that they share (sometimes over-share). But what does it mean to be a reader? Perhaps we’re the ones looking at the couple through the window, watching their odd performance, making judgments and getting all giddy over the special effects. This is likely a poor reading of Blewitt’s poem, but it gave me pause. Any book that can—even accidentally—move me to consider such theoretical bullshit about the role of the reader and writer is worthy of praise.
12. The book concludes with a very nice poem, “One in Three Billion,” that, while bringing us back to themes of motherhood, chimes on another theme in the collection: animals. Anyone who’s ever visited my site or spoken with me at all knows that I’m a bit nuts for dogs, though this is a recent lunacy—it took having a dog of my own to unalterably make me a person who must have a pet. I don’t talk as much about my cat (rest in peace, old man) but he was my first pet and damn if I didn’t feel for him, and for subsequent pets, the sort of love and responsibility that I assume rivals parenthood. At the risk of pissing off all of my friends with kids, let me stop qualifying things: I am father to those creatures. And, thus, “One in Three Billion” touched me. A beautiful closer.
13. I feel compelled to state that my extolling of This is Not a Rescue is not coming from a bias for the author, my acquaintance. She lives in Wales. I reside in Chicago. Were it not for Facebook, we’d likely never communicate, and if the book sucked, I could easily pan it and ignore whatever hate messages came my way. And I would have little trouble writing a less than enthusiastic review if the book merited one. But it doesn’t. I almost wish it did, because, again, jealousy. But I’m happy to write of the book’s quality, the dazzling poems, the clever ones, the eerie ones, because I’m happy to see a debut collection this strong. I read a lot of poetry and I don’t love it all. But I believe in poetry the way people believe in god. It’s the finest of literary art forms. That is, when it’s done well. It is also one of the lowest, messiest, most irritating art forms imaginable. Poetry can be elevating or dispiriting. Or dull. Or extraordinary. Or just okay. To even attempt to write a poem is humbling. To read one as good as the best of This is Not a Rescue is humbling as well. There is much to admire in this collection. And that makes me goddamn happy. If only Emily Blewitt had published a rotten book. It’d be so much easier to write this review. If only she’d published a fair book. I’d have found a way to not write this review. But she had to go and publish a strong, stunning book. And so I had to write this review.