Review of Apology of a Girl Who Is Told She is Going to Hell by Devon Moore
Woodstock, NY: Mayapple Press, 2015. 78 pp.
"I tell you this so you know," begins the first poem in Devon Moore's debut collection. And as promised, a feeling of witness suffuses the collection, as the poems take the reader through a landscape of both natural and human dramas, asking us to know the history of a family and of a speaker's relationship with the world. These poems are at turns spare, generous, embroidered and stripped down. Their styles range from prose poem to villanelle, and the tone moves from a whisper under the covers to a shout in a supermarket. They tell us that "forgetfulness is not/ the antidote to loneliness as one might believe./ That is what the basement of our imagination is for./ Here it is easy to remember somebody else's floor/ is sometimes your ceiling" (22).
Sometimes these poems are speaking from that "basement of imagination," and sometimes they are walking with us along an ocean's shore, but the ones that resonate with me the most are the ones that are sitting beside the father's bedside as he struggles with death. The last third of the book focuses on grief at his loss, and reconciling the complex father/daughter relationship with that loss: "It is about closeness to what hurts us// most, it's about wanting to be the one person/that death missed. And so, sometimes people pray/ like that." (48) These poems are both tender and unflinching in their gaze. The language is charged and speeds the reader along a current of emotion that is both turbulent and unrelentingly honest.
Eyes wide, the same shade of coal as mine—
See the terrified ocean animal in him crawl
up to peer behind his eyelids, see it reach out
its deliberate strength and peel back each strap
trapping him down, see my chest bone cracking
open to show this hurricane heart still
circling hope—Please, don't die... (62)
Despite the fact that death is welcomed by the father, who we are told in the poem "My Father Wishes for Death," "...wants the peace of death, yet not enough to be a 'yellow-bellied sissy'/ and do it himself," (25) the speaker of the poems longs for him to return, even to the point of redoing his death—"I am getting better at this,/ selfish daughter that I am,/ resurrecting him more, not less." (68) These poems are moving in their emotional complexity and in the music of their lines, as well.
In short, Apology of a Girl Who is Told She is Going to Hell is a strong debut collection, which traverses an impressive breadth of terrain. "Everything I taste is a heart," Moore tells us, and the book delivers on this promise, tasting everything and delivering the experience to us in vivid detail (18). From grief to anger to heart-break, human experience is rendered in full-color on these pages.
You can purchase Apology of a Girl Who Is Told She is Going to Hell here.
Phoebe Reeves earned her MFA at Sarah Lawrence College and now teaches English at the University of Cincinnati's Clermont College in rural southern Ohio, where she advises East Fork: An Online Journal of the Arts. Her chapbook The Lobes and Petals of the Inanimate was published by Pecan Grove Press in 2009. Her poems have recently appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, Drunken Boat, failbetter, and Memorious.