Sugar Work

Alice James. Jun. 2022. 100p. ISBN 9781948579261. pap. $17.95. POETRY
Winner of the Alice James Award Editor’s Choice, Marya’s debut collection is a nuanced narrative history that excavates family and relationships and the speaker’s position in them, including her relationship to her mother’s work at a strip club in Atlanta and her father’s addiction. Emotionally versatile, the poems range from intimate and exuberant to distant and sardonic, sometimes all at once (“Nobody is as ridiculous/ as everybody. I love the air/ snagging your hair”). A childlike reverence juxtaposed with an adult recognition of complexity often underpin the poems about mothers (“inside the cave of our mothers’ bodies we strip the walls and take what’s ours—we don’t know better, we don’t know what not to do”). This idea of selves within selves, bodies within bodies—the attempt to understand oneself as divided into and from others—recurs throughout the collection. The tender and redemptive resolution seems to be that of coexistence (“Let what haunts me be sugar’s history,/ not pleasure itself”).
VERDICT A psychologically and narratively sophisticated exploration of desire, family, memory, pleasure, and love.
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