Mare’s Nest

Sarabande. May 2023. 84p. ISBN 9781956046120. pap. $16.95. POETRY
Springing from her years growing up on a horse farm in Kentucky, the memoirlike free-verse poems in this first collection from the Amy Award–winning Mitchell are powered by visceral images related to breeding and raising horses, with the most evocative ones depicting mares giving birth. At the end of the collection, she provides a glossary of equine veterinary words she uses, “old and concrete but rarely inscrutable, a treasure trove for a poet,” that inspired her to write poetry and whose sounds appealed to her are vivid and muscular. For instance, one of the horses is “ewe-necked,” an evocative term describing a genetic deformity that causes a depression on neck. Another horse is “fescue-footed” which means that the horse isn’t able to walk properly because it has eaten a fungus growing on fescue grass—another expression that sounds like a metaphor and the basis for a poem. One of the most vivid poems refers to the alpha female who steps out from the herd, “sixteen hands tall,” and who hasn’t “given birth or let go/ of her sense of order yet.”
VERDICT Ultimately, Mitchell’s language is reminiscent of Dylan Thomas’s “Fern Hill” and draws from a similar source: life bursting forth on the farm beside an undercurrent of death. As Thomas’s famed line says, “Time held me green and dying/ Though I sang in my chains like the sea.”
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