Five Reasons to Read: Humanly, Stevie Edwards
Review by Shakthi Shrima
1. Humanly builds itself around in the space between the body and the self. Stevie Edwards’ second collection is divided into four parts, titled ‘Dread Clothes’, ‘Take’, ‘Fang and Fantasy’, and ‘Anchor’. ‘Dread Clothes’ offers up the tired sort of pretty that’s born from lone womanhood— but in Edwards’ hands, this womanhood is hopeful and more than a little When alone, Edwards dives into the wound between the self and the body, fully willing to catalogue its composition; in doing, so she wedges her words into that very space in her reader. ‘Take’, in contrast, shines light on the want lining a different wound, tries to find answers both in wanting and being wanted. Here too, honesty and defiance are watchwords. ‘Watch me.’ Edwards commands us. ‘I swallow swords for diversion.’
‘Fang and Fantasy’ grows even more restless, even more willing to speak its own contradictions and fears. One moment, Edwards is sardonic and spitting; the next, she begs us, “Tell me I’ll never get over it, running ... out of my body again and again...”
As we reach ‘Anchor’, Humanly is calmer; even the most melancholy reflections of this final section are contained and steady. At last the collection raises its head, takes a deep breath, says, “It’s okay. There are dreams. We hold / each other as much as we can.” And it is here that Humanly shows us that every wound it explores is the same, whether from different angles or at different times, whether scabbed or open; it is here that the last unconvinced reader remaining becomes unable to shake the innards of this book away.
2. Within this space, Humanly is especially expert at swimming between the worshipped and the mundane. In 2013, Edwards quips, ‘Jesus didn’t brush his teeth either.’ She bleeds through the mattress pad and though it might be sordid, she calls it a miracle. And again in ‘Post-Theist Logic’, she reckons with both forces
‘I give him my hand
& say, This scar is yours—
which is half of why I am
alone. I’m told freedom is
a credit limit increase
& an apartment of one’s own.
I can buy every glimmer
I want, except God,
which is the other half
Humanly is quick to peel away layers from the holy and show us what’s real; and even so, Edwards is uncanny in her ability to take the basest of images and convince you to feel it like a thunderstorm or a knife, like a gripping prayer.
3. Even when tackling difficult topics, Edwards never resorts to the bombastic. Edwards follows up stark gut-punchers with language that is endearingly childish in its reference, creating juxtapositions that allow us to feel as though we are talking to an old friend. In ‘A Blessing’, she speaks of ‘the Pac-Man remains of a peach-pecan pie’. And in Empress of Solitaire, she tells us:
‘There once was a woman who wanted nothing
but to be curtains hanging in an empty room.
There once was a woman who was a room
full of whatchmacallits that the man kept taking.’
4. Humanly also offers up an incredibly compelling portrait of what it means to be a mother without a child. Edwards’ self portrait as the mother of a child she cannot have is at once heartbreaking and one of incredible strength, and perhaps the part of this collection most deserving of praise. By offering up the world she can never fully inhabit to her reader, she allows us to inhabit the twists of both her longing and her resignation, gives us crayons in colors that we will never want to see, but need to.
5. Poetry is often dismissed in the mainstream as too high-minded, too niche. This is a collection perhaps capable of convincing stubborner naysayers otherwise. Even as Humanly quiets the heart with its bold truths, familiar images, and sharp wit, it forces us to want, to make our voices a little louder. To be, like its pages, unflinching and unforgettable.