“I do not have wings enough to save anyone.
I am mostly syrinx and seeing.”
With flair rooted in a provision of cultural context and historical footing, Emily Stoddard shines in her debut collection of poetry. Going through the introductory portions of this book, one will easily see why Divination with a Human Heart Attached (Game Over Books) has attracted a commendable number of literary prizes. With such feats trailing this manuscript, in the nearest future, the author of this book will certainly come to be associated with the best.
Writing on themes of myth, surrealism, magic, and memory, the author proves they are at home with their chosen subject matter, easily helping us make sense of things that are difficult to understand and explain, such as love, loss, and the passage of time.
This body of work is stunning in the way it reimagines historical events, by adapting storylines from antiquity, and bending it to suit a grander purpose. It does this effortlessly by employing humor and incisive wit, dismissive of the temptation to play safe, thereby uncovering the Achilles heel of the divine, and left with the sole decision to tickle, or to stab it. The portrayal of “god”, who is a non-human entity, given human attributes is interesting and powerful, allowing access to an existence behind the blur.
“in those days, god
spoke in fish and flower
ran to us with heavy baskets
so we could not miss him
so we could not confuse him
with lesser forms
The poet’s ability to reimagine traditional myths, in a fresh and original way, is remarkable. The skillful use of elements such as language, imagery, and form, contribute to the overall impact of the collection. Emily writes with a grace that charms the curious mind to the otherworldly. With lyricism and emotion, they make the unfamiliar familiar, sharing their lens with readers through which they can study closely, the human condition.
Armed with surrealism, Stoddard breaks free from the constraints of reality in order to tap into the realm of the irrational and dreamlike. Another notable highlight is memory playing a big role in this book, as it helps us better understand ourselves and our past, for it provides a sense of continuity and connection, and can shape our personal and cultural narratives in unimaginable ways.
In the opening poem, “More & More”, we meet a persona who is in touch with their environment, and are not shy to mention its denizens, namely; the peacock, the sandhill crane, the hummingbird, the wolf and the bear at whose existence they “do not turn away”, given to “violent /reverence.” Emily Stoddard employs line breaks, giving a significant impact on the rhythm, sound, and meaning of the poem, as well as the others that follow. Dividing the poems into discrete units, line breaks often indicate a pause, or hesitation in the poet’s thought or speech, and can be used to create a sense of rhythm, or musicality in poetry.
In, “I was running to him”, we find imageries implying the relationship between “god” and “my father”, by a childlike dependence on their care and support. Both figures in the persona’s life also share a heartbreaking form of denial, after the persona helplessly “collapsed at his feet” in the act of seeking.
In “Inheritance Rosarium”, we find “a girl” with a will behind her own survival:
“As a girl, my mother overheard her grandmother praying
Every night after the little girl composed
counterweight prayers of live, live, live.“
For obvious reasons, I am tempted to consider this poem the centerpiece for its evocative tone, vivid recollections, distinct structure, stark imagery with resonance, among several other features that leave a lasting impression on the mind. Other poems, like “Swoon Hypothesis”, “Where did I leave my god”, “Here, amen is not amen”, and “Gallows Humor— or, The Trouble with Kingdoms” will call for my head if I fail to mention them as favourites.
This book, which charts the depths of feeling and humanity in a way that is both lovely and profound, is a well-deserved triumph. A portal into a world where everything sings to any ear that will listen, this book offers an uncompromising look at the human experience. It is therefore safe to join Emily in expressing gratitude in her very own words, “Thank you to the ancestors who helped me listen”. Undoubtedly, it is in this body of work she joins the choir of “Women in Praise of the Sacred”.