Garden Effigies, Sara Henning
Dancing Girl Press & Studio, 2015
Reviewed by Kayla Greenwell
Do you know the feeling of satisfaction you get when you see something fit perfectly into its aesthetic archetype—like the perfectly shaped ice cream cone or having all of your books line up perfectly on a shelf? That is the same feeling you get when reading Garden Effigies by Sara Henning.
Henning’s words are vivid, but not in the typical sense. Her imagery transcends into actual experience, submerging the reader in the world of the poem. And in the action of reading, the reader submits to a feeling of synesthesia. Take “Marilyn,” for example:
Once my mother locked me with her in the bathroom, swallowed a whole
Bottle of Quaaludes. When my grandmother usurped the lock with a paper
Clip, she found me on the plush carpet next to her, pretending to dream.
As I read this poem, I found I was no longer in my quiet office chair. I was lying next to the narrator and her mother, listening to her grandmother fiddling to undo the lock with a paperclip and holding my breath as the narrator laid there fantasizing about black holes.
In tune with the title , there are many natural images within the chapbook—apple trees, squirrels, ivy, the body. These images blend with the harsh themes like abuse and suicide to create incredibly moving critiques of identity and survival. See here my favorite poem of the work, “Brood Parasite, Or Letter to the Last Boyfriend Who Hit Me”:
martyr, the myth
that my scent
won’t work on you.
So don’t tell me
in your mouth
like raw cricket leg.
That hurt breaking
your matrix of need
and anger feels
You’re a brown
When the last sister
resisted, you didn’t
just devastate her—
you ate her eyes,
then her wings.
Garden Effigies is a work so corporeal that I cannot help but feel it within my own being. The poignant narratives encompassing abuse, family, and female experience are spectacularly crafted to such a depth and degree that, although most of the poems are two pages at most, they pack the emotional punch of a novel length work. It is a work of poetry that fits its perfect aesthetic archetype—my perfectly shaped ice cream cone.