Family and Politics Collide in this Collection
This review was originally published May 7th, 2018 on Vocal.Media. It may have been subject to editing changes.
There are several noteworthy poems flitting about among the pages of Karen Ankers‘s poetry collection, One Word At A Time. Published in 2017 by Tylluan Press, Ankers’s book of poems serves as a form of political commentary and is particularly focused on the negative spaces that exist in the gaps of society which belong to those individuals who are homeless, who are forced to beg, individuals who do not have a soapbox available to stand on in order to tell their stories. Indeed, the word “silence” is applied quite a number of times throughout the book. The overall message of the collection is one of chastisement, which, in its repetition, can become tedious, but in all fairness, that is the purpose of this set of poems. Readers may benefit from declining to diligently read straight through this collection. Rather, they should take their cue from the title and savor these pieces slowly, one word at a time.
“On Parade” is a poem that is particularly fascinating. In it, the speaker watches her offspring participate in a military parade and is embroiled in turmoil over the young person’s decision to enlist in war fighting service. The speaker cannot even bear to call the youth her child anymore, preferring to recognize the soldier as a different being altogether, stating, “…the shape beneath the uniform was my child…” The speaker ultimately remarks:
I want to hold /
the hands that hold /
a gun /
I taught you not to kill
This concise yet poignant vignette into the roiling change that occurs in one family when a young person begins to make their own political decisions is worth spending time with. Readers can sense the speaker’s love and consternation for the poem’s subject wriggling like newly winged butterflies throughout the lines. Curiously enough, a few pages later in “For My Father” readers are given a glance into a possible future for this divided family.
Here, the speaker reflects on how her decisions caused the disappointment of her own parent. The speaker recognizes that the development her autonomy meant she “…was never going to become the shape you wanted…” If Ankers’s placement of these two pieces was intentional, it was a well calculated move. These poems will certainly have readers flipping back and forth between the two, wondering if they will be able to discern the outcome of the next generation’s familial strife.
Ankers’s more personal contributions to the collection, poems like “Left Behind” and “David,” rather than her more political pieces, contain a shimmering, tragic intimacy. The truthful kind which instills a translucent glow of feeling within the readers. For example, the opening lines of “Left Behind” are quick to set the mournful tone of loss:
soon you were only the rise and fall /
of a close watched chest /
an intake of oxygen /
a faint hiss of hope
At only three stanzas long, “Left Behind” is so incredibly heartbreaking. This is indeed one of Ankers’s best works in the collection. Poet Cynthia Thomas accurately describes the assembled poetry as “honestly conceived,” and the evidence in support of this statement is presented not only in the lines of aforementioned piece, but also in “Lies.” Grief is paramount again here:
my words are a useless noise /
and I wonder why I lied to you /
when your world was mine to mould /
why I made you believe /
that love could mend all things
The intense heartache bleeding from the words Ankers chose in order depict the anguish in this scene is bitterly piercing. She then repeats her tug at her readers’ souls in “Home,” yet another example of the honesty and vulnerability she utilizes in order to create delicious works of art. Ankers is not only a published poet but a novelist as well. Her suspenseful new book, The Crossing Place, is now available for the public and has been well received by its readers.
Though the speaker in “Home” “…can’t say where I belong,” it is safe to say that One Word At A Time certainly belongs in the hands of readers seeking moments of reflection in a boisterous world which is too often ignorant of those trapped in silence.
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