Aware Betty

One thing I’ve noticed (and loved) about Elizabeth Horan‘s poetry is how raw it is. I think it’s incredible that she allows herself to be so raw with her poetry…and then share it with us readers. Her collection Alcoholic Betty takes readers on an emotional, vulnerable ride, and it sure was something.

(Real quick–you can also access my mini vlog review here; the full length vlog is accessible through that video.)

Let me start by saying that this is not necessarily an easy book to read. There is discussion of alcoholism, mental health, suicide, a lot of swearing, and self deprecation it’s heavy, there’s pain. But there’s also hope; there’s also this beautiful sense of self awareness/self reflection throughout the collection. You have to be in the right headspace to read and really appreciate this collection, but I think that even if you haven’t felt as strongly as Horan has, you might find ways to sympathize with her.

I too use poetry as a way to process my thoughts and feelings, usually if they’re very strong; it seems as though Horan’s poetry in this collection acts much the same way. While she’s begging for another drink or cigarette, there’s an air of disappointment. While she describes her relapse, you can sense, again, the disappointment, but there’s still a glimmer of acceptance. Not a “well, this is my life now, I’ll never get better kind;” more of a “okay, I screwed up, but we’re going to try to move on and be better.” So…perhaps “forgiveness” is almost a better word. These poems are often filled with this sense of ambiguity and juxtaposition–on one hand, she’s hurting so so badly, but on the other hand, she’s looking for a way to start healing. I think it’s beautiful.

I won’t lie, though, some were difficult to read. Some made me feel like when you’re talking to your best friend right after something terrible happened and they’re crying and you just kind of sit there, wanting to help, but unable to. Some of the poems just made me want to give Horan a hug; and then there were others where you aren’t quite sure how to feel while reading them.

This is just a really fascinating read because it takes something like alcoholism and mental health and makes it so deeply personal. I feel as though many of us probably have a difficult time really understanding what it’s like, but this collection makes it seem more relatable in a way that’s simply difficult to describe. The emotions are so complex; Horan is so vulnerable; it’s all very raw.

Poetry is a tricky thing to recommend to people–like yes, I recommend the collection on the merits of Horan’s skill, the way she pulls you in to her story, her pain, the vignettes of her life. But that might be a lot for someone to take in all at once, especially if you aim to read the book outright and then move on. This is a collection that needs a little time and thought; it needs the same sort of self awareness that underlies these poems. It needs a sense of understanding–or at least a willingness to understand and not be a judgmental jerk who says “obviously drinking/smoking like that hurts more than just you, how selfish.”

So, if you’re a simple-poetry lover, one who doesn’t want to get down and dirty with complicated feelings, maybe give this one a pass. But if you are one who likes nuanced, layered, raw vulnerability, this is definitely a collection worth checking out.

That’s all I’ve got for now! Be sure to keep an eye out for next week’s posts on Burn by Jason Horton.

Happy Reading!


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