Some of us writers have our writing idols; others feel a connection to those who came before. In poet Elisabeth Horan‘s case, after a bout of postpartum depression, her book Just to the Right of the Stove was born, and in part inspired by Sylvia Plath.
(Psst, you can also access my vlog here!)
Plath, for those of you who don’t know, was a 20th century poet who ultimately committed suicide after experiencing depression for some time. So, with her story (and Woolf, for that matter) in mind, in conjunction with her own experiences, Horan set about collecting poems exploring depression and even has some poems that act as a sort of conversation between the two poets.
It’s beautifully written, but very emotional–so be prepared, this is not a “Hmm, what will I read today,” type of book. I’m not saying that you have to do a ton of pre-work to put yourself in a mindful, empathetic mindset, but reading the author’s note where she explains all this is a good first step. On that note, I really appreciated the inclusion of Horan’s little message to us readers–I think it gave a lot of context and set up the actual collection really well.
I also enjoyed reading the little “essays” of advanced praise–it was interesting to see what other reviewers thought of the poetry, and sort of gave me a heads up of what was to come. This was welcome because, as I said, the book’s emotional.
One particular poem sticks out, “I Hate Elisabeth Horan,” and the following poem, to a slightly lesser extent. In the first poem, Horan explores what can perhaps best be called self loathing (intense, I know). You can really feel the pain felt in that poem–it’s like taking all of your everyday-minor self doubts and critiques and amplifying them. On one hand, it’s heartbreaking, and on the other, it’s cathartic. “…I am just a bug, flipped over, stepped on. Grip my hand – pull. Try on my life for a change – then you’ll know what it is like to be hated, and deranged.”
The next poem, “Drawing Away With Knife To Butter Scone or Slay Text Box,” is interesting to me, then, because I think here’s where one of the most obvious “conversations” between Horan and Plath can be seen. It starts with “Ugh, this prose nonsense./ Did you write all that for me?/ No, Sylvia, for me./ While I was in therapy./ To get better./ It can’t be all about you.”
These two poems in particular just really struck me because of how personal they are–all the poems are personal, and it seems that Horan’s affinity for Plath is personal as well–but these two just give such a wonderfully intimate glimpse into the emotional nature of both postpartum depression and the similarities/relationship between these two poets.
These poems will make you feel things. Whether it’s through the words Horan uses or the style she employs. There are times, for instance, where poems are written in such a way that words are broken up between lines. At first, this threw me for a loop, but as I came to read the book more, it kind of reminded me of how when you’re sobbing uncontrollably and you stutter-hiccup words out in a staccato style. With time, I ended up really enjoying these poems. On the note of style–Horan uses a varied style, so if super-structured poetry is your jam, you’re going to be disappointed. Some poems are prose, others are short, long, have stanzas, others don’t, and the rhyme isn’t consistent. These are by no means “bad,” in fact, I think it gives Horan’s poetry a unique vibe that’s very interesting and lends really well to how emotional and mercurial life can be.
So that’s really the only reason, I can think of, why a reader might not like it–the varied style of the intensely emotional and fairly dark subject matter. Regardless of both of these points, I enjoyed the book immensely and am so grateful to Twist In Time Magazine for the opportunity to work with them again.
That’s all I’ve got for now! I’ll be back on Thursday with my regularly-scheduled reviews, so see you then.