Blood, Sparrows, and Sparrows by Eugenia Leigh
Four Way Books, 2014; 84pp
Reviewed by Sebastian H. Paramo
In Eugenia Leigh's highly anticipated collection Blood, Sparrows, and Sparrows, readers encounter God, angels, fragments of violence, loss, and redemption. A finalist for both The National Poetry Series and Yale Younger Poets, it is a pleasure to finally be holding her book. These poems are raw, honest, and unafraid to confront the speaker's flaws and of the characters she encounters. Yet despite these confrontations, the speaker manages to find a light in the tunnel and discover beauty in the tragic.
In her second poem “The Deposition”, she brings us the idea that the speaker in these poems, “...was born with a black hole in [her] brain.” On the page we can see how the speaker arranges these openings, building them to remark that these holes are not empty but filled with voices blaring.
Sometimes other attempts are made to fill these holes or mend these fragments. In her poem “Pretty Universe,” a poem about mending, the speaker asks the question: “If artists were created in his image, how often/ does God abandon his mistakes.”
She is daring in wrangling this genesis. From afar, she creates this portrait:
How carelessly God hummed us whole
with such pronounced
holes for lungs.
How hollow we are. How
in a faraway warehouse.
The speaker's embrace of her mistakes and her carousel of characters' own mistakes often left me with a realness not often encountered in other contemporary poems.
Her use of anaphora in “Wire Hangers” builds and braids the narrative, creating a beautifully raw rendition of domestic violence and forgiveness. “Will you” carries the poem in dark places that often surprise and leave the reader uncomfortable in the right way. “Will you hold the wire hangers/ in my father's hand?/ And when you hold those wire hangers/ the wooden ones, / the yardsticks./ will you hold my mother/ down as my father whips her with them?”
However, despite this realness with which we're confronted, the speaker is unafraid still to embrace and find strength in writing these poems as resolve. In her poem “Aftertaste,” we find a miniature man living inside the speaker's mouth as a spurned lover. She closes with lines that remind the reader of a broken record, sputtering, “I waste years flossing, spitting his sorry/ fragments. And him: rewriting, rewriting—”
Despite this, in her last section titled, “Sparrows,” Leigh's speaker turns to embrace complete strength in the past. Glimmers of hope are found in those ruins. Over and over again in “Psalm 107”, there is praise for the past flaws encountered in previous poems, and finally, the speaker ends by being thankful for the “brave unsettling.”
By the end of the collection, I can't help feeling the same echoes of devastation and resolve. These are brave poems and a remarkable debut. I look forward to reading more from Leigh. Her words feel important, and they should be read with the care and love that good poems deserve.