REVIEW: WHEN WE WERE FEARSOME BY JOANNA PENN COOPER

There are times during the day when my mind goes blank, and not only do I forget what I’m doing, but there’s also the slightest moment where I can’t be sure of my place in the world. I generally have a pretty good idea what the point of living is—at least for myself—but there are these times when nothing seems to add up and I’m simply adrift in the sea of existence. I sometimes worry that I’m the only person who thinks this way, so it’s nice to have someone come along and illustrate this feeling—though maybe not in the same words—so well in their own poetry, just like Joanna Penn Cooper does in When We Were Fearsome.

“I keep trying to remind myself that I’ll be dead soon, the way we will all be dead soon. The trick is to do this in such a way that I remember to live, but not in such a way that it keeps me up until 4am.”

When We Were Fearsome is a funny book in the way only a parent can be funny. There is a level of nihilistic dread that runs under the surface of these poems (and sometimes above the surface), tinged with the slightest bit of hope. BUT, they’re not depressing or gloomy. Like I said, they’re funny, and it’s because of the outlook Cooper has embodied in these poems. She’s aimlessly walking toward something that feels important. And here we are, on the sidelines, rooting for her to get there; I think it’s because we all have a little bit of Cooper inside us as well.

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