In Melissa Crowe's incandescent second book, the Iowa Poetry Prize-winning Lo, threats are everywhere, but love and beauty counteract them. Incorporating a variety of forms, this collection of 35 affecting autobiographical poems travels from impoverished girlhood to marriage and motherhood in the post-pandemic U.S.
Crowe (Dear Terror, Dear Splendor) delves into the reality of sexual abuse and growing up in rural poverty. Some days there was, literally, no money; she and her parents took turns washing in the same bathwater. The multi-part "When She Speaks of the Fire" remembers molestation by a friend's father, which was an open secret in her community; when he was arrested for related crimes, no one asked about her experience: "they didn't want to know." Guns are insidious here: whether used for hunting or for random and mass shootings (as in "America You're Breaking"), they reflect a violence as inescapable as the misogyny that lay behind her childhood abuse. Trauma lingers. "Maybe home is what gets on you and can't/ be shaken loose," Crowe wonders.
Yet the collection is so carefully balanced in tone that it never feels bleak. In elegies and epithalamiums (poems celebrating marriage), as well as free forms, Crowe honors the family ties that bring her solace, such as her husband and college-bound daughter. Time's elasticity means events could seemingly be "twenty years ago or/ Wednesday." Aching loss, teasing sensuality, fear, and wonder at natural beauty: the volume's emotional range is enhanced by alliteration and botanical imagery, with the poet's resilient "heart a foraged/ apple, still green." --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck