The Tyranny of Heirlooms by Erika Eckart

“Erika Eckart’s The Tyranny of Heirlooms is itself ‘magical material,’ a meditation on the necessity for escape, the impossibility of escape, and maybe, ultimately, ‘the illusion of escape’ that salves and saves us all. Equal parts a ‘hope chest’ and a list of regrets, the book burgeons with the accumulations of lives which are always ‘much more than…could ever fit inside.’ Eckart, then, brings those accretions outside in all their poverty and persistence. Her narrators know we ‘can’t start fresh all the way from scratch,’ so they are offered the next best thing: brute sequences of sustenance, always a day late, a dollar short, but somehow complete.”
-Nicole Matos

“The box-shaped poems in the first section of Erika Eckart’s powerful manuscript struggle to contain the wild energy of the characters fenced within. Each one has an obsession, whether it be the woman who scrapes the scabs from her husband’s diseased body into a jar from, which she ritualistically inhales, or the Cicada Man who never gets over the emergence of a biblical swarm of cicadas, none can escape the event or obsession that binds them. The second section, The Tyranny of Heirlooms, from which the book takes its title, imbues domestic objects and rituals with menace. In ‘Monopoly,’ a punitive mother lifts young children into a dumpster to search for a missing monopoly piece while the neighbors hear them through the night ‘like mice scratching at the wall.’ In ‘Housekeeping’ children attempt to create a home by building a fort from rotted logs and wooden pallets, decorating the surfaces with vases of weeds in empty beer bottles. Theirs is a game less of fantasy than of survival in face of the abuse. The tyranny in the book’s title is expertly rendered, but because the collection is also about survival, Eckart ends on a note of affirmation. In the face of darkness, the poet is still capable of song, as the last line of the final poem asserts: ‘I am still here and we have music.'”
-Victoria Anderson