Things I Didn’t Do with This Body

Copper Canyon. May 2023. 80p. ISBN 9781556596582. pap. $18. POETRY
In her first collection, Wallace Stegner Fellow and Pushcart Prize winner Gunn writes powerful poems that spring from the intellect and the heart. Most compelling in a collection of striking poems are those about Harriet Tubman’s life, which reverberate in today’s still-racist society: “She arrived/ in the new world, new city, crated in pine, a burlap sack/ unfurled on her body, wrapped tight under leek/ and turnip—coffined, confined.” Gunn’s deep sense of connection to family inspires many poems; those centered on food reveal the magic alchemy of changing ingredients into gustatory experiences that linger in memory: “[Grandma Mattie] could make sweet potato/ pie out of russets. Seduce/ their pale starches until they/ tumbled into caramel.” In a series of prose poems exploring mental health issues, the sentences can deliberately unravel, and words race with urgent speed: “what’s the name for when something you love is dead no not grief no not loss no not funeral no not forever.” In two sections, highly emotional prose poems remind the reader of Sylvia Plath.
VERDICT Occasionally, some one-word titles don’t do justice to the poems, and in a few the rhyming seems overdone, but this poet writes what is vital and necessary. These poems are raw, emotional, and fierce in their rush to get words out into the world. Highly recommended.
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