I had a real quandary when I came to format this review for the blog — should I keep the title in lower case, as it is on the cover and on Goodreads, even though it goes against my usual formatting style? Or should I capitalise it so that it’s in keeping with everything else on the blog? In the end I left it in lowercase because, ehh, sometimes you’ve got to do what poets want, you know?
You’ve probably heard of the princess saves herself in this one. I had — that’s why I requested it from NetGalley (where it’s been uploaded presumably ahead of its re-released by a publisher; I believe it was self-published before, but I might be wrong). It was nominated for the Goodreads Choice awards, and it’s been coming up on my Goodreads feed constantly for a few weeks now.
I went through a phase of reading (and writing) a lot of poetry a short while ago, but I’ve drifted a bit away from it in recent months and have let my poetry magazine subscriptions lapse. This meant this was the first poetry I’d read in a little while.
I have to admit, I’m not as blown away as people led me to believe I would be. I really appreciate the message of the collection, and the ideology of it. It’s powerfully feminist and it’s about reclaiming a sense of self that people have tried to take from you, and finding your own strength. It’s also very relatable, as I’ll discuss in a moment. There were some individual poems and lines that I really liked, enough to wish I was on my Kindle and could highlight them. (I’ve only just got a tablet capable of running Adobe Digital Editions, and I haven’t entirely figured out how to use it.)
However, I felt it was more successful as a collection than as a set of individual poems. Like I said, some of them were gorgeous, but some of them didn’t feel that… sophisticated, I guess? I’m not saying that all poems need to be deeply complicated and full of imagery and literary techniques, but I do feel like there’s more to poetry than just linebreaks, and in a few poems it was hard to see what else there was to it.
Moreover, I wasn’t convinced of its originality in places. I guess this goes back to the idea of it being relatable. Some experiences are all too common, and being able to write about them in a way that feels universally relevant is a gift. But there were poems in here that felt exactly like poems I wrote when I was 17/18 and going through some of the same things. Perhaps they used slightly different metaphors (thorns instead of shipwrecks, for example), but some of them could have been mirror images.
I’m not saying mine were better or anything — I’m just saying it’s sad when you think you’re original only to find that other people have had the same feelings and thoughts and written them down in essentially the same way. When reading poetry, I guess I’m looking for something a little bit more surprising; something that makes me perceive the same feelings from a totally different angle, instead of something that feels like it came from my notebook.
That said, the fact that some parts of it so painfully mirrored my own experiences did help me to relate to the poems and allowed me a way in to the collection, as I could bring my own experiences to it. I don’t have experience of the grief that is explored later on, so I found that less directly emotional, but the parts that seemed to mimic my own life did have an emotional impact.
(As for the idea of healing / saving yourself… well, I’m torn between thinking I managed that, in my own way, and thinking I haven’t got nearly as far as Lovelace in that process because mine looked so different. But that’s not really a book review, that’s a journal entry.)
One thing I liked was how formatting was used to construct meaning in the poems. I remember being taught about shape poetry in school, but only in a very surface-level way, without exploring its potential for emotional impact. Lovelace uses line-breaks and alignment effectively to add to the meaning of poems, and that also helps vary the collection, as does the contrast between the longer poems and those that are only a line or two long. Once or twice, the effect is created by placing related poems on what I assume are facing pages in the paperback (I read an eARC), mirroring each other’s alignment on the page. I was also struck by the way that many of the poems appear to have their ‘title’ at the end in italics, which I found a little bit strange and distracting in places, although in some instances it was incredibly effective.
I’m a little torn about how to review this, in the end, because I really wanted to like it more than I did. I liked the message. I felt it was realistic, even if that also meant it wasn’t as unique a perspective as I might have enjoyed. As I’ve already said, I liked certain individual poems a lot, and will probably revisit them. However, there were others that felt too simplistic to me, perhaps because my tastes run to the more esoteric imagery some poets use, and overall, I didn’t particularly feel like the collection said anything new or innovative.
Poetry’s incredibly subjective, though, and I can see this being an effective read for those who prefer poems that are easier to understand than the weird stuff I usually prefer (even when I have no idea what they’re talking about). It just wasn’t what I was looking for, and I’d probably give it 2.5 stars, rounding up to three.