Stunt Heart (The Backwaters Prize in Poetry) (Paperback)
The Backwaters Press, 9781935218463, 90pp.
Publication Date: August 20, 2017
List Price: 16.00*
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In Stunt Heart, Mary Jo Thompson’s debut collection,a female gaze locates the ironies inside the subjects of marriage and death, loneliness and love, speaking and silence. The title plays on both sick hearts and circus tricks, and appropriately, these poems are direct, personal, and disarmingly emotive. Look at the end of the first poem, “Says Penelope,” where the speaker suddenly veers to “Newsflash: I sleep- / walk.” These stark moments of admission are used to perfection in the centerpiece sonnet series, “Thirteen Months,” the collection’s highlight. Distilled emotion over the illness and death of an estranged husband ranges in tone from the dark humor that compares the marriage to a used car to the elegiac imagery of protecting the family garden from frost. The shock of seeing the deceased in his casket looking like a cross between Clark Gable and Dracula seasons the collection, recurring in ruminations on the various ways a body is prepared at death and the story of a mother who dies while sneezing. Although no one brings back the dead by writing poetry, in Stunt Heart,Thompson revisits them with credible humor and tough dispatches from bedrooms, graveyards, and hospital hallways. Thompson’s Stunt Heart jukes, dodges, and prays while muscling through all manners of demise and in the process reveals how one can turn grief into speech, art into grieving.