Plucking the Stinger by Stephanie Rogers
Saturnalia Books, 2016; 80 pp
Reviewed by Jack Hill


Plucking the Stinger, the debut poetry collection from Stephanie Rogers, is brutal, unflinching, and beautiful on the line level as well as holistically. Rogers is deft at circling a central, concrete artifact in these poems and using that artifact to carry the poem over the top by the end, requiring the reader to linger for a moment in grief or love or empathy or hope.

For instance, in “On the Death of My Sister's Husband” Rogers works with a set of apartment keys to guide us through the death of the speaker's brother-in-law. More than that, the poem partly functions a rumination on grief. Line by line, the speaker juggles keys, a phone call, and a bag of groceries while trying to make it into the apartment as the weight of the night presses down and engulfs, surrounds: “The keys glint like starlight on the ground, / the porch light winking back, the dark / gone dizzy, while the moon / continues fattening.”

When the speaker knocks over the bag of groceries while unlocking the apartment door, the heaviness of grief is complicated further, yet portrayed with a sense of strangeness that rings true: “What waits there / but silence and the memory of a nightmare / just like this, where my sister made / a phone call, and I answered. I stand up / and place my key in the lock. Moths / keep breaking like my heart against the light.”

Rogers' collection has a fresh, haunting perspective that, by the end, leaves us wondering about the ways we might process trauma to better understand our tiny, violently alive place on the timeline.