Review: Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across: Poems by Mary Lambert

Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across: Poems by Mary Lambert by Mary Lambert
Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across: Poems by Mary Lambert by Mary Lambert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If Mary Lambert put out another book of poetry, I would read the hell out of it. But if you're entirely new to Mary Lambert, it might be worth listening to her music (not just her collaboration with Macklemore) to get a sense of her style and her themes--because if you're not prepared for it, her poetry will hit you hard and no content warning on the cover would be enough. Through her poetry she visits and revisits the trauma, rape, abuse, and abandonment, to show how those demons permeate her life, music, relationships, and contribute to her battles with depression, self-worth, and other battles she must fight daily. And as sad as that may sound, the reading experience is not necessarily devastating throughout. Inevitably, some poems are raw and leave the reader feeling emotionally depleted that it may take some time to be prepared to read the next one (reader note: don't try to read this through in 1-2 sittings). Yet Lambert's power is in her ability to pull the reader into her mind and expound upon the ways the trauma stays with her and whispers to her in between breaths or hovers above her while experiencing intimate moments. But it's not just that she does this but that she can do this along an emotional continuum that can easily evoke laughs as it can tears. Other poems explore what it means to be full-bodied in a world that praises the thing or the push by people for her to compromise on her work now that she's hit these levels of success. She largely works in free verse and each poem has its own sense of direction and rhythm that also add a bit of exploration in each year, She additionally plays around with the layout of some poems, that can also play with the reading experience, either making it a bit more frenetic or raising questions about how the words align in relation to their meaning. All together, Lambert's poetry is an emotional wallop that while sad at many times, is also a meaningful gift for readers.

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