- Accepting in Blud Inheritance
Copper Canyon Press
88 Pages; Print, $16.00
blud is Rachel McKibbens' third collection of poetry: visceral, violent, and veracious. The word brave is overused; instead, let's call McKibbens' work lionhearted in its ferocity, heroic in a world of villains, and as meticulous as it is madcap. These poems are bristling with fear: specifically, inherited mental illness and the untold acts of violence of the world. They are also brimming with hope, with tomorrows, and with children whose futures are not yet written.
"blud" means community, a term that encircles all those who experience McKibbens' words as a holy cry, fearless in its self-expression. Here, McKibbens traces the roots of her lineage: an inheritance that festers, threatening to blister and break. The poet and her family are naked in this collection, as is the stigma of mental illness. Her embrace and exposure of her personal history is an allowance for others to do the same, without shame, and unabashedly.
Not surprisingly, McKibbens is an advocate for survivors of trauma, as well as a two-time Poetry Fellow for the New York Foundation. First making a name for herself as the 2009 Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion, McKibbens is known for her arresting performances. She has the range of volume and voice of an opera singer, yet when emotion is stripped to its barest bones, her voice breaks and cracks. While her pacing and timbre are fantastic to hear, the artistry of her poems on the page is an equal delight, and her voice still resonates.
The book's narrative arc is framed by poems "the first time," "the second time," and "the last time." "the first time" illuminates the speaker's awakening as a child after her first suicide attempt. The poems in section I explore the violent and conflicted characters of speaker, mother, and father. There's no room for the weak of heart here: father "busted my face open," and mother is more ghost than real, who might call on birthdays "Confused. / Her mouth full of radio wire." Mother wanted only boys, and the speaker's wrong sex sets up a childhood of self-hatred; she learns early that "Girl is the worst season." As the speaker discovers sexuality, with its dual pleasures and perils, these early poems establish traumas and identities that echo throughout the collection.
The twin poems "letter from my heart to my brain" and "letter from my brain to my heart" delve into mental illness full-force, elucidating the heart's manic assurances and the brain's lyrical despair. The heart asserts that "It's okay to despise what you have inherited, / to feel dead / in a city of pulses," and the brain replies, "You have my permission / not to love me. I am / a cathedral of dead bolts / & I'd rather / burn myself down / than change the locks."This first section evokes a family of nesting dolls who, though pulled apart and set separately, are still inside each other. Yet the speaker's mysterious multiplicities deepen as aspects of her identity are explored and become more evident and her sense of a whole self-evolves.
Section II is the heart of the book, delving into the poet's heritage and identity as Chicana and detailing the narratives of her ancestors while also revealing her own new role as a mother. Sexual awakening serves as a scaffolding that allows the speaker to become alive through sexual healing and discovery, as in "the second time": "Do you think / you're a boy or a girl?" / & everything inside / me came bruising / to the surface. / Neither, I said / & it was understood." This encounter is "the wet / demolition of shame" and the speaker discovers "What I had once / mistaken for death / was, instead, a door." Here, the speaker fully enters her life.
In "oath (blud litany)," the collection's title shatters and reforms as a beacon guiding the familial to its shores. The speaker exonerates herself and all those whose lives echo in this volume: "blud each bruised memory into weightlessness…blud the ready ghosts of shame / blud possess your...