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Amy Munson

Amy McCann Munson's poetry has recently appeared in the Kenyon Review, Gettysburg Review, and West Branch, among others; her first full-length collection, Yes Thorn, is forthcoming from Tupelo Press as winner of their 2013 First/Second Book Prize. She was a 2012-2013 McKnight Artist Fellow in Poetry, 2012 fellowship recipient from the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and 2012-2013 Writer in Residence at the Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts (Fridley, MN). In 2014, she became a recipient of the Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant. A native of Illinois, she currently lives in Minneapolis.

Blurbs

“Yes Thorn uses language in new and exciting ways. And I admire how this poet asks the critical questions: What connects us, to each other and to belief? Can we be connected — to ideas, to lovers, to religious belief, to family — without also being inscribed by these connections? Can we be moved by desire and longing without becoming subject to them?”

– Paisley Rekdal

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Yes Thorn

Amy Munson's Yes Thorn

09/11/17

“In my mouth the name of God an overripe pear: a grain, a grit/ on the tongue.” These words, from Amy Munson’s debut full length collection of poetry, Yes Thorn, embody the ambitious intentions behind the collection. Munson’s verse aims at big game—god, love, sex, death—in a way that interrogates wounds and hopes, creation and destruction, vulnerability and strength. In Munson’s hands, words flex and contort in the most surprisingly mesmeric ways, but behind the magic lies a truth: life, in all its dizzying and addictive qualities. As her poem “Poustinia” predicts, you confront these words and their driving questions, and “You might enter/ your desert, the chalky scree/of soul, and stay/until you can stand/ it.”

A stunning quality of the book is its ability to address binary oppositions, turning over every subject like a coin in the palm to expose the dual nature of all things. In the poem “Rift,” Munson writes:

Once earth
did this in reverse:

one congealed continent
levered separate, the world
now seven times more

vulnerable.

“Rift” begins with the image of the way a skull grows over a baby’s brain to protect it, and then shifts to the banal pains of growing up—middle school bullies and fathers forgetting birthdays—as assaults that are poised to “rip my hair at the root.” From there, a new image, detailed above, of the earth splitting from one land mass to several. The poem examines the cycles of being shielded to being vulnerable, on both macro and micro scales, to highlight the nature of feeling exposed, solitary, and isolated.

Like the image of the baby’s skull, these poems frequently lean on images of the body. The body becomes its own altar of devotion and faith, of prayer and penance. In addition to that, there’s references to Christian rituals, to religious stories, such as Lot’s wife and Jesus, and references to the occult and greek mythology. In fact, the poems themselves might be read as new parables, similar to the teachings of Jesus, but with dark shadows cast over them in the form of ambivalence. The poem, “Winter Cutting,” showcases this well:

Always in the flesh
the thorn. The fruit
pustuled around its invasion.

This poem balances beauty alongside the assault on beauty, with the flesh having no choice but to cradle its own pain. In Munson’s deft hands, growth stands beside destruction, love readies itself for the ruins of loss.

As much as the collection pursues light, it equally illuminates its absence. The poem, “Chambering,” takes on a darker tone:

How occult it feels to be
near you in dark places:

your basement during a blackout,
your garden once the lantern’s

wicked through its pool of oil,
when you thumb its residue

slick crescent on my cheek.

Similarly, the poem “Ex Fractura Miraculum” looks at darkness in the most surprising way. The poem is about a lawn mower slaughtering a nest of baby rabbits. It seems unlikely that such a mundane tragedy can be turned into such a thoughtful analogy of life, but Munson doesn’t disappoint, pivoting the poem in the ending: “the lawn/sealed over, flat as an altar, all injuries crypted beneath.” Both of these poems are darkly magical, looking at intimacy and monotonous chores as hotbed areas where loss and loneliness decompose beneath our surfaces.

But Munson’s most stunning quality comes through her use of language, her syntax contorts in the most challenging of poses, nouns turn to adjectives and verbs, inanimate objects become charged with life, and stark images glow in her darknesses. For instance, the poem “Lost August”:

A gospel boredom. We’ve sulked
so long this swarthy month, lazy

as chaises, leaking our best salt
until we’re dark in every crease,

swiping our eyes with our forearms
for the jolt of the sting.

Descriptions like “a gospel boredom” and, in another poem, “The lilac’s cardiac leaves,” are original enough to practically hypnotize its readers with their stunning lyricism. While the poems themselves are ambitious, constantly turning on their own heads, the language is rich and fluid. These poems are confections that are both delicious and beautiful line by line.

This book, just like the duality examined throughout, is both comforting and unsettling, both curse and prayer, both grief and exaltation. These are poems wild with mystery and infused with wisdom. In “Here Special Supplications, Intercessions, and Prayers May Be Made,” the following lines embody the profoundly feverish longing of the entire collection:

Teach me, Lord, to be
like the grass that surrounded us there: yield

to wind, but weirdly alert, wild
in its reaching—

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