The Body is Always Present: A Review of Stevie Edwards’ Sadness Workshop

Sadness Workshop (Button Poetry) is available now!

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Stevie Edwards’ latest chapbook, Sadness Workshop, is a lava flow of wanting. It captivates and calls out to its reader—from its dedication (“for anyone who needs this”) to its last line: “I am so sorry for my loss.” Sadness Workshop is a collection of poems that are both deeply personal and all too familiar. Lovers pile up. Drinks clink above a sticky bar. Voicemails get deleted. “I throw sobriety down a flight of stairs,” Edwards writes, “until she bruises, admits she’s no god, / no good, just a sack of organs / quitting the earth a little less quickly.”

The collection weaves and wanders, shifting between prose poems and lineated verse while staying tight to its narrator. It opens with “Story,” in which the author implicates herself in the very first line: “Gossip in the attic chatters the tale of Stevie Edwards.” Edwards writes unflinchingly about trauma, mental health, and the messy act of love and lust. Through the collection she spins through emotions—from shame to awe, rage to wonder. The sadness Edwards writes about is a complicated one—a sadness, largely, of the body. In “Hair of the Dog,” she writes: “I have lived nine lives where women comb my hair and clean my room while I break prayers out of myself. Today, nobody tends me. I will have to be my own mercy.”

In Sadness Workshop, the body is always present. The word itself repeats, a hammer pounding throughout the poems. Even when not directly called to, there is a sense of the body—of flesh and blood, scraped knees and bruised lips. There is a fascination for the speaker with the physicality of their own body and the way it interacts with the world—for instance, in “Against Desire”: “I give my knees to the driveway to feel what gravel can do for me.” Other bodies come and go, and the speaker spends their fair share of time lingering on the ways bodies fit together, but the artery of the book lies in the moments the speaker is alone with their own body, pondering what that means. In “Comfort,” she writes:

I want the comfort of my own body,
I declare to the empty street
as I stumble up porch steps,
search a big purse for keys,
with no man trailing behind.

There is a tension here, though; Edwards’ speaker seems at once to desire the comfort of their own body while grappling with the sadness that rears its ugly head when they’re alone. “Late Night with the Prince of Ruin” stands out as a poem in which Edwards seems to be getting at the heart of what concerns the book, beginning “I’m not sure if I have any hands / when I am alone, unheld.” There is a question being asked, again and again, of how to be alone. The final poem, “Letter of Resignation,” which beats out an anaphora of Sorry’s, maybe gives us her answer: I still don’t know. I’m sorry.

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Jessica Poli
Jessica Poli

Jessica Poli is the author of four chapbooks: 'Canyons' (BatCat Press, 2018), 'Alexia' (Sixth Finch, 2015), 'Glassland' (JMWW, 2014), and 'The Egg Mistress' (Gold Line Press, 2013). Her work has appeared in Best New Poets, Southern Indiana Review, and Caketrain, among others. She earned her MFA from Syracuse University, and is pursuing her MA at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is the founder and editor of Birdfeast Magazine and can be found online at www.jessicapoli.com.

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