Poetry Which Discusses Sexual Assault Recovery and the Grace which Blossoms Along the Way
As sunflowers stand tall, looking east for the rising sun so too does Kirby Peterman’s collection of quiet resilience, Sunflowers, stand. Peterman’s poetry collection, published in 2019, highlights the need for feminism and tools which empower females in their quest for control of their own lives to become mainstream in today’s society. The poems, which flow along the pages in a variety of prose and free verse, also examine how rape culture can be perpetuated by not only men but women as well. If a society is to grow, evolve in a meaningful way- all its members must be responsible and held accountable for their actions.
As the collection calls for women to be strong, it does provide examples of characters who possess an indomitable spirit. The characters Liz and Annie (even the awful art history teacher, Mrs. June) are capable of making their voices heard. Liz is introduced in the piece “Intellectual Soulmate” and is described as “freedom;” she “…knows more than you about a lot of things – calculus, boys, sex, drinking, clothing, saving money.” The poem creates a nostalgic pull for those early friendships from high school, filled with giddy talks and heady visions of the future.
Readers will then experience an art history class with Annie who “…defends her liberal beliefs with unwavering confidence despite the unpopularity.” She is a voice of truth, a hero in the speaker’s eyes which makes the culmination of “Libra Resilience” all the more terrible. And yet, the unfurling of sunflower petals can be felt in the last two lines of the poem. After raging against the unfairness of the world, the speaker notes, “It will be the first time you think sharing your voice could be im-/portant and you will decide in the future you might write it all down.” Even in her suffering, Annie still inspires those she interacts with and that sort of regal nature, that brilliant power of inner strength will move readers every time they read the poem.
It is important to note that it is the aforementioned Mrs. June who is the most vocal aggressor against other women. She even goes so far as to declare, “If my son raped a girl and she was wearing slutty clothing he should not go to jail and he should not be blamed.” The male attackers present in the collection, while clearly acting on their own volition, still have surely taken advantage of the mindset taught to them by such sentinels, these mothers of monsters, who guard an aggressive patriarchal society. They have blinded themselves so much to the horribleness of their actions that they can cover “…the window with a pillow after locking the door” and still be able to smile down at their victim.
The sentinels in this particular collection include a women in a position of authority who teaches males that violence against women is justifiable and, unfortunately, the speaker’s own parents. The dismissive, emotionless nature of their response to the news of their daughter’s rape is perfectly conveyed to the readers through the lines, “You should not have put yourself in that situation” your parents / will tell you on the phone when they get the emergency room bill.” An attack on their offspring is viewed as such an uninteresting thing as a bill, something to be paid and then forgotten. A collective tinge will pinch the hearts of the readers at this moment.
Kirby Peterman’s poetry discusses the arduous task of recovery from sexual assault and how a certain grace blossoms along the way. “In actuality, only young sunflowers track the sun. / As they mature and strengthen, / they find a fixed easterly stance to face the rising sun.” Sunflowers is a collection by a survivor and certainly fits into the discourse of today on consent, but those who are not yet ready to read some of these poems (they are not intensely graphic but do include descriptions of sexual assault) may want to linger on pieces like “Currently” and “Stopped Time”.
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