Review by Helena Pantsis

Saturn Browne eases us into the world of BLOODPATHS through the quiet solitude of pre-existence, a “crater brimming with rainwater.” The debut chapbook of a young, burgeoning talent in the broader literary sphere, Browne utilizes content, form, and structure in natural harmony to baptize us in the arteries of our lands, forging the eponymous bloodpaths we tread through what she herself describes as something “that the reader can grasp and tangibly understand.”

Creation story does the body of work a great justice as the introductory poem by erasing and rebirthing the reader in its own genesis. There is a gentle sharpness to language across the poetry that starts here, with heavy images working to juxtapose fluent structures flowing across lines, enjamb-ing speech to align with the title of the collection—BLOODPATHS, evoking images of rivers, canals, and slow movement in the veins.

Browne spells it out for us when she tells us “I cannot outrun an abyss,” feeding into the fears of the eco-anxious and the targets of recurring political violences; the abyss exists in cycles, speaking to the beginning and the end, and, like the movement of a river, the never-ending comings and goings of troubles and turmoil.

There arises the question of the very nature of the speaker’s humanity in these poems, in where its limits lie. A musing familiar in Prayer poem where it feels like a person is actively reflecting on their evolution, from sea creature to the thinking, ruminating, hopeless experience of a beast too self-aware.

Imbued with yearning, the reader is forced to forget themselves, falling into the clutches of grief in death, and whatever the term for grief is when it comes to birth and the renewal of life. 

The animal is pivotal to the life surrounding the bloodpath of a river which carries across these pieces; in their image, the themes of nature, fertility, death, and connections to ourselves and each other are made decisively innate to the speaker’s identity, particularly in embedding themself into the very soul of their being.

Ancestry and known lineage is pushed to its limit, with Siren breaking us from our eco-poetic daze by merging us into the ancient mythology of mermaids, a creature that parallels the reality of our earthly organisms in their victimhood, once more betrayed by mankind. This type of fable carries on into Silver bodies, golden heart told almost in footnotes to a ghostly, half-empty page. Browne lets prayer carry the reader gently through her poetics, like the calm movements of a silent stream

In Unshelling we see a connection to Browne’s own understanding of family, matriarchal roles, and cultural experiences—crediting this lens to their Asian heritage, hailing from their childhood home in Guanxi, China. 

Saturn Browne allows their identity to speak to personal encounters of “cut[ting] up vermicelli & scallion, steaming the / flesh in steel pots” and “peel[ing] open the muscles between shells & lift[ing] the pearls out one by one,” intimate domestic occurrences written in vivid, sensory prose, that feel familiar even to those of us whose experiences diverge. Yet, even in the “hunt for mollucks,” the familial relationships and intergenerational longing speaks volumes universally.

Paired with delicate line drawings done by Browne themself, there is a sense of real cohesion in this collection. Like the bloodpaths and the rivers that recur throughout these poems, this chapbook, though brief, somehow manages to flow through you, embedding itself in the blood, and tugging at the heart strings where our bloodpaths course through. 

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