A Near-perfect, Devastating Collection of Poetry: A Review of For Your Own Good by Leah Horlick

for your own goodFor Your Own Good by Leah Horlick is full of the kind of writing that inspires superlatives.  It’s one of the best books of poetry I’ve ever read, a genuinely important, incredibly powerful book that has stirred awe in a lot of readers, me included.  This is not because For Your Own Good is in itself prone to any grandiose gestures or excess, but for the reason that it is truly a near-perfect, devastating collection of poetry.

I do not say devastating lightly.  These poems are about an abusive lesbian relationship, violence in a supposedly safe queer space.  There is plenty of triggering material: racism, colonialism, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.  But there’s a lot more than that, too.

The poems follow a kind of trajectory, moving from misunderstanding to healing, sometimes back and forth.  What I loved was how Horlick speaks from a calm, present moment to her past self.  She is gentle, kind, while possessed by a quiet strength, honesty, and poise.  As if she’s tenderly whispering, it’s okay.

leah

Leah Horlick, via caitlin-press.com

The collection starts with a circus-themed poem, a brilliant, dark motif of a (queer) outsider hoping to find community with the other freaks:

All those nights camped out in the field, squinting

for a light, a flicker, calliope in the grass.

Grease and fire, they’d understand

and tuck you into their silken fold. They’d fawn

and dress you, glitter and eventually parade…

…and the year came

when you knew you would die on the highway,

in a truck bed, in a grain silo, tied to a fence, in a slough

at your own hand. You left to find them.

 

When I talk about devastating, though,  I mean this:

The Yellow Scarf

makes you look like a brown person, she tells you,

since when have you been brown?  And in the dress you’re straight

and the hat makes you look like an immigrant but your breasts are

coined with raisins, your skin is the colour of cinnamon.  You are food.

…how is this any

different? You and your grandmothers will be gone before anyone

notices, faster than you can say

Jew.

 

And this:

 

Now that I know what to call

what you did, this time I’ll tell you

 

to stop…Now that I know

what to call what you did, get back here

because nothing I ever do will be enough

 

to prove it.

 

But there’s coming back into herself, into trusting new people, into magic:

 

All of a sudden I know it’s not

going to happen. And panic, silent

until I remember—you’re not her, I could just

 

ask you to stop. Except that you already

have, and wait, and listen while my body

tells me a very old story.

 

You don’t ask questions, unless

I want them, and I want anything

but these red eyes that look out

 

from mine like the forest, anything but

this silence. When you tell me that this

looks like strength to you, how you love this

 

about me, I almost hate you. Why do you

have to be so good? This has to be magic, how

you hold me while I turn into a snake and fire

 

and grief itself beneath you. Good magic,

you tell me, and don’t ask questions

until I want them.

 

The collection ends with the most gorgeous, hopeful poem.  She has healed but not forgotten:

Anniversary

It has taken five years and fifteen hundred

kilometres to get away, and closer

 

to the mountains. I can see them—

every day, like I always wanted. Near,

 

and distant. Every day I can ask people

not to touch me—

 

on the bus, on the beach, or in my new kitchen.

Or, I could ask them to—

 

which, lately, is harder. How can it still

feel so soon? She has never been

 

near this new body of mine—

short-haired, tattooed, very strong

 

and very, very fast, now. I carry a chunk of rose

quartz the size of my thumb for safety.

 

I have sworn to myself a life of people

who know when to stop. I promised—

 

and spent my first night in the new apartment drawing

circles in salt and rain, whispering

 

to my old self, come here. I built this

for you. I promised.

 

Thanks for trusting us with your story Leah. Thanks for sending these poems out into the world.

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About CaseytheCanadianLesbrarian

Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and future librarian who holds an MA in English literature and is currently studying for an MLIS in the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations (Vancouver, BC). Topics and activities dear to her heart include cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer (Canadian) literature, running, and drinking tea. She runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find reviews of LGBTQ2IA+ Canadian books, archives of the book advice column Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian, and some other queer, bookish stuff. She also writes for Autostraddle, Book Riot and Inside Vancouver. Find her on Twitter: @canlesbrarian. Some of her old reviews, especially the non-Canadian variety, can be found at the Lesbrary.
This entry was posted in Jewish, Lesbian, Poetry, Queer, Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Vancouver and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A Near-perfect, Devastating Collection of Poetry: A Review of For Your Own Good by Leah Horlick

  1. Pingback: Link Round Up: May 25 – 31 | The Lesbrary

  2. syrens says:

    Reblogged this on Voices of Venus and commented:
    So there’s this. Go take a look.

  3. Pingback: Eight #CanLit Authors Who Write about Survivors and Trauma | Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian

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