Revenge Body by Rachel Wiley is the definition of what it means for poetry to have a bite that is worse than its bark. These poems rip at the meat, bone, and marrow of aspects of the institution that has settled in the hearts and minds of our societal zeitgeist. In a harrowing tale of the poet’s personal journey through trauma, she elucidates the stories and whispers that live in the walls of her cells in such a way that the reader can not help but find themselves somewhere in the midst of the text.

“wails for her wants, tantrums for someone to stay, to fight

for her, to run into her wanting

with their own wanting,

for her to be unquestionably the source of a want as hungry

as her own, for someone to see the softness her bulk is capable of,

to root out the sweetness in her cloying.

In this way, Susan “Boomer” Jenkins is my own sloppy heart,

a greasy haired beast caged

and longing for something to float gently down in her favor

just once,

something she will not have to drag

struggling to her chest and subdue.”

Wiley’s bombastic honesty hits with a precision that takes a heaping amount of gentility to perfect. She abandons the flagrant flowery fancy of poetic sidestepping to get to the essence of things through their own natural rhythms, metaphor,  and raw, necessary beauty–no matter how painful. This collection is a heaviness cushioned in a sense of the reclamation of one’s own power and worth. It has a feeling of rifling through the rubble of grief to reveal the choice bits as they are and were. 

In the midst of her work, Wiley illustrates a dense desire for cleanness despite the murky waters that the conditions of her life have tried to drown her in. She stares her conditions in the face and calls them each out by name. In a world that tries to dehumanize tinted and textured bodies for the sake of breeding worthlessness, Wiley dares to find her beauty, reclaim the monstrosity that is life, and swallow both gentility and turmoil whole. This collection is deeply revelatory.

Through this work, Wiley invites us into a fearlessness that is absolutely required for any of us to take the journey toward facing our own shadows, even if we have to do it alone. 

“You won’t think to ask,

but if you did, I would tell you:

I am the granddaughter of a great jazz & blues man

who spent his whole life with his hand wrapped around the neck

of a strung-up branch

rather than the other way around,

and that right there is survival.”

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