Review of Ashley Toliver’s “Spectra”

https://www.massreview.org/node/7490/

(Review published in The Massachusetts Review, July 2019)

“Kinesis,” the first poem in Ashley Toliver’s powerful first book Spectra, frames the collection’s primary strength: that of movement through trauma and the emotionally dark places in the female self, where one can be “plumbing / a violent kinesis. “This movement takes place via Toliver’s poetic form and her charged poetic language. While near the collection’s beginning, the female speaker’s husband in “Long Division” is waiting for “a woman / to crawl out of / herself,” by the collection’s last poem, the speaker sees herself “in the last pew / of the lit horizon / in the wide-open field of the now.” The forces that constrain and inspire the speaker’s growth shift from her male partner’s physical and emotional abuse in the compressed first section to her struggle with optic nerve cancer throughout the spatial middle section to the last section’s “ripening” of the “blue tilt” at dusk where there’s “no northern limit / in the capacity for awe.”

Most of the poems in the first section, “Housekeeping,” compress shards of lines into flash-prose poems, which take the same titles as the section’s. While the title implies a uniform kind of keeping order and keeping track, which traditionally has been a domestic role for the American female, something difficult in these poems and barely navigable is going on, which surfaces then plumbs underneath, as here:…

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