In Enszer’s second collection of poems, universality encompasses themes much deeper than Jewish and lesbian ones for which she is typically known. Although the poetry makes the reader feel conflicted, it’s not negative in the usual sense. Instead it is a true snapshot of the human condition. For example, the author dives into womanhood and self-actualization in “Moon.” A mother’s realizations, worldly advice, and knowledge are thrust upon the narrator. In this introduction to the secret society of women, they are connected not only by biology but also by shared experiences. Think of how many women “could feel / dreams seeping out / between [their] legs, wiped / away with cheap cotton.” Enszer makes something so common, so ordinary–like women’s menstrual cycles–into something sacred, full of emotion and, at times, full of disappointment.
This is but one example of Enszer’s impressive achievements in this collection. While there are poems that express cultural views and emotions, such as “Zyklon B” and “The Former Prime Minister,” most of the work muses on what it means to be connected to other women. A predominant theme is the unexpected death of her sister and how her remorse and sentiments all play their part.
“Hamster” is a poem of particular mention, mainly because of the poem’s stylistic quality. The narrator talks about her first pet hamster and how it died of neglect while the family was on vacation. The hyperbole that the author uses is severe, going from failing to look after the hamster to failing at everything else–causing the doom of Detroit because she moved away or failing the Women’s Crisis Center because not enough money was raised. These are actions that women partake in everyday. We blame ourselves for things out of our control and feel that it was our impact that would have made the difference. We flood ourselves with guilt until we are drowning in it.
Enszer reinforces this idea with the constant reminder of what she could have done for her sister while still alive: compliments, positive feedback, less fighting, etc. In the end she realizes it is a lost opportunity. She expresses her feelings of loss and grief with such a simple grace that it’s easy to become lost in this world of personal trauma and regret.
This collection is recommended for libraries that collect modern poetry but will find its main audience among LBTQ women.
[Enszer received her MFA and PhD from the University of Maryland. She is the curator of the Lesbian Poetry Archive (www.LesbianPoetryArchive.org); more of her work is at www.julierenszer.wordpress.com. ]
Reviewer: Judi Tichacek