Sorrow Arrow by Emily Kendal Frey
Octopus Books, 2014; 86 pp
reviewed by Vladislav Frederick


Kendal Frey’s Sorrow Arrow is an engaging stream of consciousness, diving from real-life tensions and hardships into dreamlike scenes that dissociate from the commonplace. The poems in the collection are untitled, and also adhere to an identical format of no stanza breaks throughout. Such structural formalities are effective for the reader’s immersion, allowing the lines of each new page to feel like a progression from the next, while the lack of titles leaves content open to shift at the middle, or bottom, rather than only at the top of every page; ultimately, this makes it easier to treat all of the poems in the collection as seamlessly contiguous, and to treat the whole collection as one long, unending (and often waking) dream.

There are strong traditional surrealist flavors to Sorrow Arrow, particularly in moments of sexual discomfort or subliminal tension that convey well through the strange (and often dystopic) lens of the subconscious. For example of these themes, look to the following excerpt from a poem on page sixty-seven of the collection.

The trees gnarl as you sleep
Orgasmic detritus
The woods become men
You wake to her face
Chicken salt sweat
The rain never stops

In this short excerpt, nature and man and woman conflate under the lens of the dream; flora is personified, first by trees that “gnarl,” then by woods that become “men.” At the same time, humanity is animalized, subverted through human sexual words like “orgasmic” being knitted to a word that can mean waste or debris, through animal (chicken) sweat immediately following the second person waking to a female face, and through the unceasing rain that follows all of these events. The second person you extends a hand of universality, but often (much as in this excerpt) seems to frame itself more as the narrator speaking to themselves—perhaps the conscious speaking to the unconscious, or vice versa.

Sorrow Arrow is ultimately quite effective, interviewing human and natural truths with subconscious ease, ferrying readers across the waves of human hardship, and into the depths of subconscious reaction and perception.

A river runs hard down a mountain
You woke up and had been breathing
Love opens cliffside
An egg endlessly breaking
Dead flatscreen
You stand in time