Harmby: Hillary Gravendyk
From the series Light Leaks © Andrew George
WE KNOW FROM EMILY DICKINSON that true poetry is painful. A real poem made her "feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off," which by all evidence she took to be a good thing: "I know that is poetry." If it is, then so much the better for Harm, Hillary Gravendyk's first book of poems, whose descriptions will disfigure sensitive readers much more than commonplace poetic lobotomy. Her book is full of pain: a "skein of plastic braided into the mouth," "organs flat as mirrors," a "throat closed by what opens inside it," "[t]he kind of hunger that swallows you," "[b]reath, threading its tiny needles," and a "bright needle, punched through the neck."
While at times she can be lightheartedly funny - "I was promised only good things," Gravendyk writes in "Appetite" in the voice of Appetite itself, petulant and credulous like a child - mostly she is out to evoke serious pain. Gravendyk's work isn't dramatic, but it evokes drama; she doesn't despair, but she offers few of the usual hopes. A sufferer, mentally as well as physically, she speaks from the edge of coherence, removed from normalcy but lucid enough to know her remove, as when, in "The Seven Sins of Memory," she leaps from bed linens and hospital records to "[l]inen-thin scenes, stacked like records," and after them