This Week, I Read Sarah Etlinger: Never One for Promises

Image Credit: Sergey Zolkin, via Unsplash

This week, I read Sarah Etlinger’s Never One for Promises. This collection of poems is delightfully sexy and absolutely stunning. Etlinger uses cutting pears or the shape of chili peppers as metaphors to discuss relationships in a way that is both original and insightful. In another piece, she describes god as a man in a dark suit on the subway, with a “black licorice smile,” which I also really thought interesting.    

I really loved the piece “Pillow Talk 2.” In it, the speaker’s love interest keeps her company while she’s up all night due to insomnia.

“I think it would be interesting/if you wrote a poem/about life before/women got their periods,” the man in the poem says. The speaker doesn’t respond to this verbally. However, she’s thinking about it. Periods are a natural and healthy biological occurrence—a world without them is a world where women don’t give birth.

“I think of Venus,” she says, “arising from a shell/bobbing among the waves…/she had babies,/she had a womb/blood/-red and holy/enough for twins.” Here, she’s doing two things. She’s giving an example of a goddess who has human features. Etlinger’s Venus is a goddess with a period—she’s both beautiful and real. Her body is healthy. I’ve never heard anyone describe a goddess as having a period before, but now that I have, it seems so right that any other description is wrong.

She goes on to say that “I cannot help but think/he writes me into existence/like the fashioning of angels,/…a Venus without her period–/barren, virginal, fresh and clean/as the night air/he breathes into his sleeping lungs.” Here, we see that she knows that she’s being misperceived by this man—much like most mythology seems unrealistic (after all, Athena was born by being pulled out of Zeus’s head, which could never actually happen). The speaker’s unexamined insomnia gives her character the depth that the man in the poem lacks. It’s during that time that she has productive thoughts, creates poems. Just like Venus, she has a power that the man in the piece does not have—she can see things and people as they are.

I truly enjoyed this book. It’s full of mythology and Goddesses and fruit. Each poem in the collection is an absolute gem, with a lot of subtle artistry that really draws the reader into it. I highly recommend this book, which is available from Kelsay Books.  

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