Book Review: Truth Love Blood and Bones by R. May Evans

Evans’s recently released poetry collection exhibits writing that is evocative, sensual, celebratory, cautionary, and rife with intent. As the title of the collection suggests, Evans collection seeks to marry the highly abstract (Truth Love) with the undeniably physical (Blood and Bones). We can see a prime example of this marriage in “Stars, Salt, Sun”:

After great perversion, a formal fugue comes. /
The dust ruffles ceremoniously like terror. /
Winds breathe malice and a litany of bird songs /
takes wing to sunnier shores, /
like a shore on which a bottle I once cast may now lie, /
briny with salt and secrets: secret /
sins, buried and blanketed by layers of dust /
blowing over bodies browned by sun and radiation and stars. /
I think that under these same stars /
a dark-eye woman must have stumbled /
upon a bottle of glass, green like the curve of /
the sea, and, opening it, heard a melody /
of sorrow and pride. A shiver, then, /
passed through the sand, and terror, /
like a crab, scuttled over her.

This poem opens with a well-balanced and intriguing opening line coupled with the odd and compelling image of dust ruffling “ceremoniously like terror.” The poem moves on, like many in this collection, to grant agency to the natural as a way to get into and invigorate a somewhat abstract conceit. Evans writes of the wind breathing malice and bird songs taking “wing to sunnier shores.” It’s of note that the songs themselves take flight, and that perhaps they’ve left muted singers behind to ride, silent and uncommunicative, upon that malicious wind. And therein lies a central abstraction of this poem, which Evans draws together over the remainder of the poem: what do we do with communications secret and tossed away, like a message in a bottle, as they are overrun by Nature, yet continue to turn up again and again to frighten/influence/corrupt/enlighten a “dark-eye woman” happening upon them in some unforeseeable future? Do we also take the whispered missives and bottle and toss them? Or do we keep the lessons learned, however terrifying, and keep them close at hand?

Throughout Truth Love Blood Bones Evans writes of the natural world and its seductive/corruptive qualities. “Xocolatl” is an extremely visceral example wherein the narrator ties together a memory of watching a cat devour a bird with the blissful act of eating chocolate with a lover: “…feeding you / the way the bird fed the cat: with intimate exchange of fluids.” The book is full of such twisted and crafted imagery.

Additionally, a number of poems in this collection describe with a solid eye a type of love that borders on the violent (Love Blood). I’ll use “Moments of Weakness” as an example:

Sometimes I can’t /
bear the silence between us, growing as large as the longing inside. /
I want to split your head open /
like a coconut to drink all your sweet thoughts /
and ease this horrible thirst I carry. /
Instead, I /
stare at you until you feel /
my eyes, like fingers, tracing across your skull. /
You turn and ask what I’m thinking. /
Fearing the true /
answer would harm you – as if /
to speak it makes it so – /
I smile and say: how much I love you.

The above piece also features one of the weaknesses in Evans poetry: her interruptive use of the line break. Realize that Evans writes mainly in free verse, where rhythm is often an afterthought, but the choice of where to break a line does matter greatly in terms of transmitting meaning, composing an image, and structuring a poem over all. The break between lines 6 and 7 above illustrates my criticism. That break does well to emphasize the violent thoughts brimming but it does so at the expense of disrupting the easy and loverly pace set by the opening lines which, had Evans carried it throughout, might well have juxtaposed more appropriately the aggressive tenderness at hand in the piece. (See “One-Sided Relationship” as an additional example wherein the questionable choice of line breaks serve to interrupt the image being circumscribed rather than accentuate it.)

Nevertheless, there are many poems within Truth Love Blood and Bones worthy of exegesis. So check it out yourself: Click to purchase.

Book Review: Truth Love Blood and Bones by R. May Evans

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