The Kissing of Kissing

Define verbal. Better yet, define nonverbal, a word sometimes used to describe autistic individuals who don't speak. As a poet, Hannah Emerson knows that words and their meanings matter and thus prefers to describe herself as "non-speaking autistic." Her debut poetry collection, The Kissing of Kissing, proves the wisdom of that choice: it decisively shows that speaking aloud is only part of being verbal.

Emerson makes great use of repetition, such as with phrases ("yes yes" or "please get") that spiral in and out of the poems. This signals a certain urgency and makes the tone at once familiar and fresh. The rhythmic quality of each piece is similar, creating a steady pulse throughout the collection. Every poem feels alive with a fierce energy, a force that is balanced by the book's design. Each full page of white space grounds readers, creating a stillness within the movement. The pause allows reflection on such insights as "Looking oblique littles/ the moment into many/ helpful moments" from "Peripheral" or, as in the poem "I Live in the Woods of My Words," to sit with a tangle of ideas and words: "I live in the branches/ of the trees. I live in/ the great keeping/ freedom of the really/ helpful down yearning/ in the grown of the forest/ floor."

This arresting collection is the first in Milkweed's Multiverse series, titles written and curated by the neurodivergent. It makes a remarkable statement, both visually and verbally. --Sara Beth West, freelance reviewer and librarian

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