REVIEW: HELP IN THE DARK SEASON – JACQUELINE SUSKIN (WRITE BLOODY PUBLISHING)

How many rituals will it take
for me to release my parents?
I cut off my braid and give it to my father.
I try to craft a ceremony of repair,
but I just keep taking from my own body
and giving and giving and giving.

from “The Balance of Old and New”

The newest addition to the Write Bloody roster, Jacquline Suskin blends the press’ trademark edge with earthy undertones in Help in the Dark Season, offering a collection that is at once familiar and remarkably fresh. She is thoughtful and careful in her craft, which makes her appreciation for the literal and concrete all the more engaging. In “To See It Better,” the speaker asks, “Why in a poem are we always trying/to relate the subject matter to something else?” This sentiment perfectly summates the overall vibe of Suskin’s poems; though they are layered and complex and nuanced, they are also often direct in their appreciation of nature and the observable universe.

Help in the Dark Season is split into three sections: I – My Parent is the Universe, II – Is Human Love the Light?, and III – Help in the Dark Season. The first section carries a notably different tone than the second and third, but it works within the structure, and even broadens the appeal of the book as a whole by successfully tapping into multiple voices without compromising the cohesion of the underlying narrative. Together, the three sections track the progression of love in comprehensive fashion, tracking experiences that range from abuse to lust to whimsy.

For me, the first section is the most powerful, as the speaker taps into a tenuous relationship with her parents. The visceral memories echo Sharon Olds and Rachel McKibbens, taking on a confessional style that does not flinch at trauma but also makes space for complexity of loving one’s parents even as abuse continues.

Despite the darkness of her adolescence, Suskin moves into a softer, instinctive definition of love in the second section. This grouping reminded me most of Anis Mojgani, as the author fixates on the innate beauty of the natural world in images. In “The Wife Who Is Ready,” Suskin boils down the connection between the natural world and human intimacy beautifully: “The hum between our bodies/as they unite is the same as the hum/of the earth’s burning core.”

Early in the third section, the poem “How Love Learns” establishes a reflective tone that often teeters between honesty and cynicism, the speaker admitting to her lover that “You came back/to find me before we were ready,/but that’s how love learns.” Here, the poet finds her place among the Write Bloody family, embracing the complex and sometimes painful ways in which we must navigate love. The poems in this section bridge the previous two sections, allowing for the whole of one’s experiences to inform a more expansive yet delicate definition of love.

Help in the Dark Season stays true to its intent, leading the reader through the process of self-reflection and toward healing. Readers will come away with a great sense of self and, I suspect, a bit more faith in the human condition.

Purchase your copy of Help in the Dark Season from Write Bloody Publishing.

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