ON HUMANLY BY STEVIE EDWARDS
SMALL DOGGIES PRESS, 2015
REVIEW BY ARIELLA CARMELL
Somewhere up there, Anne Sexton is nodding her head with approval; Stevie Edwards’s Humanly takes its cues from the canon of confessional poets, trawling through the depths of depression, misogyny, and mania. These weighty matters are often placed against the backdrop of folklore and the swirling gray of winter, juxtaposing the ephemeral element of her bare body with transcendental forces. In “To Houdini,” Edwards empathizes with the magician’s illusions and false escapes, noting, “There’s a theatrics to escaping ruin/that has to be honed./The world wants to see you struggle/loosening the straitjacket’s hold” (12). Her collection comprises this act of dramatics, as she shapes her own compressed form of ruin into a menagerie of verse and lyricism.
Throughout the rhapsody, Humanly is embedded with sleek metal razors of doleful observations. Its most potent moments are often the most prose-like—sharp, declarative statements that are all the more piercing because of their surrounding abstractions. In “Theory of Time,” Edwards sets up a challenging and sardonic voice that barks through nearly every poem, saying, “Try this: my bed is covered in Kleenex and late bills” (10). For someone who can deftly pen a winding turn of phrase (“Which witch this scuttling is: I am and have been/what goes drown in the night, what lost fathoms spit back/dripping magic, some of it good, most of it obscene” (51)), these frank moments come as surprises that both moor the rest of the poems and give us a glimpse of the poet as reflected in a mirror of the psyche.
The focus of these poems, as the title suggests, never quite leaves the body but does transcend self-involvement, often musing on womanhood as a concept, as well as pop culture and current events. The bite of Edwards’s narration is at its keenest with “Blurred Lines,” a response to Robin Thicke’s misogynistic mantra of the same name, in which she draws the parallel of the women as the animals the song makes them out to be. Only in her vision, these animals are not to be “domesticated” but are world-weary, learning to run from predators symbolized by men in department stores.
We, the predators, lost and hungry,
we, the big teeth, the hard shoulders,
we, the body, we the spirit of fast,
are licking the salt off necks again (“Blurred Lines,” 1-4, p. 34.)
Edwards also reflects upon at length her own sense of womanhood that she tries to shape in spite of constant scrutiny. She projects a vision of fortitude, not passivity, on the daughter she wishes she could have, and in doing so aches for the same qualities for herself; “Let it be said that her mother/was a butcher. That she knew how/to gut a mammal without waste./That she never looked back” (49).
Edwards’s poems are like gnashed teeth, gritty and taut. In drawing from the mystical even as she deals with the corporeality of her life, she surrounds herself with a self-created mythology, one in which women are wolves and Ithaca, New York is haunted with the ghost of her uncle as she watches The Walking Dead. The poems in Humanly are unbound by constraints of genre or even a unifying use of meter or structure, but they each ring in different pitches of Edwards’s elegiac and oftentimes sardonic voice, woven together like the course of a single meandering thought.