Monozygotic | Codependent by Stephanie Bryant Anderson
The Blue Hour Press, 2015
Poetry Review by Andrew Taylor, Nottingham, England
Published in The Ofi Press issue 46
This is an intriguing and bold collection of work. Any poetry book that begins with a quote by Sylvia Plath, is setting itself up for a certain kind of reading, particularly when utilising a quote such as this:
I do not know who I am, where I am going – and I am the one who has to decide
the answers to these hideous questions – Sylvia Plath.
The expectation, then, is that the reader will be asked to engage with issues such as identity, the self and darkness. There is that element, clearly. However, there is an undeniable tenderness within this debut collection.
The book opens strongly, with a poem of firm intent. So much intent that it appears before the contents page. ‘Loneliness Came Inside My Home, Unpacked Its Things’ begins with the personal pronoun and offers us a view of a certain kind of domesticity; one of darkness and isolation only punctuated by the ‘[…] way I’ve neatly folded the laundry/ over and over’. The sense of the outside world disrupts the domesticity (in which ever form it takes) with the quite beautiful image of the snow and its ‘such beautiful white flowers’.
After the dedication (to Charlie who is 6 minutes older) and contents page, it feels like we have another start to the book, one concerned with family and religion. ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’ is a poem about familial history and the repetition of twins born within that family. Allowing once more for the outside to penetrate the poem, this successful technique brings a distance from the narratorial voice in just the right way:
God is waiting from the tops of tin roofs
overlooking a sky of birds’ feet, and a horse,
a withered field, and yellow-brown water standing
in the yard.
This is reminiscent of Les Murray and the way he edges the natural world into the order or chaos of the everyday.
The themes of family and the domestic continue throughout the book with an almost comforting regularity. Often collections of poetry are just that – a collection of disparate material and of course, there is nothing at all wrong with that. It is refreshing though, to read a collection where the thematic concerns are spread so evenly. That is not to say that the collection is overbearing or repetitious in any way. In fact, the book spreads out in its latter stages whilst never straying too far from the domesticity that is at its core.
Overall, this is a collection that invites the reader to engage with intimate moments of life; the highs, the lows and the in-betweens. All of this is achieved without being too sentimental and with a narrative voice that at times, can be just distant enough. Despite often dealing with subjects as bleak as death and divorce, there is a sense of something else happening within the book. Perhaps it is the ever present natural world. A strong and important debut.