Belly to the Brutal

Wesleyan Univ. Jul. 2022. 128p. ISBN 9780819580962. $25; pap. ISBN 9780819580979. $15.95. POETRY
In her latest, award-winning Mexican American poet/novelist Givhan (Rosa’s Einstein; River Woman, River Demon) investigates motherhood in lush, viscous language while also touching on social oppression and masculine inconstancy. She begins with the physical closeness of motherhood (“Once I held a body wide enough// to shelter to two small loves”), then assesses the mixed joy and anxiety of watching them grow (“I open the door & spill her out[,] … my motherheart stringing behind her”)—because, as she says, “the last time I died I was defending what I love.” A sense of her own impuissance in the face of men and society (“the Texas man who convinced me to hand/ over the lockbox & made me something akin to love since love had always been/ shame & pain”) leads to a determination that her children will be stronger (“I am raising…..a daughter/ a nation/ a knife”). Throughout, Givhan communicates how important being a mother has been to her (“My 8-yr-old daughter is teaching me/ how to live with myself”), and it is these canny perceptions that make the book.
VERDICT Givhan’s strong, vibrant writing can also be dense and layering, sometimes slowing up an understanding of her meaning, but the result is great for the word-hungry and readers interested in the female experience.
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