Issue > Book Review
Deborah Hauser

Deborah Hauser

Deborah Hauser is the author of Ennui: From the Diagnostic and Statistical Field Guide of Feminine Disorders. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in SWWIM, Bellevue Literary Review, TAB: The Journal of Poetry & Poetics, The Kenyon Review, Mom Egg Review, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal. She leads a double life on Long Island where she works in the insurance industry.

Deborah Hauser reviews Crack Open/Emergency by Karen Poppy

Crack Open/Emergency
Crack Open/Emergency
by Karen Poppy

32 pages
Finishing Line Press

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Karen Poppy's startling debut chapbook Crack Open/Emergency provides lyric instruction on how to survive and respond to life's emergencies. The title suggests two opposite responses to various crises including racism, rape, and gun violence. One response is to crack open, as in crack up and break down. The other option is a more tender response: to crack open, as in open up your heart. Poppy beautifully raises her "poetic voice" to demonstrate how to crack open in the second sense and redefine the self after suffering trauma or grief.

"Oh, Susanna!," a retelling of the story of Susanna and the Elders, is the book's brilliant centerpiece. In a clever mash-up of classic art and popular culture, Poppy references paintings of Susanna, the biblical story, Wallace Stevens' poem "Peter Quince at the Clavier" and Leonard Cohen's song "Hallelujah." The poem is a fierce anthem for the #metoo era. The speaker, an "avenging angel," calls out the corrupt and lecherous elders. Different versions of Susanna's story are offered, but "in mine, she sings, innocent of all shame. / No need to repent."

The book tackles different kinds of violence including racism, the execution of Emmett Till ("Defining"), and school shootings ("Our Times"). It is, indeed, a book for our times with numerous poems that recount different forms of violence against women. In "Law School Internship," the speaker advocates for victims of domestic violence while recalling her own rape and further abuse by the legal system: "The police took their report. / My rape kit's stored away, / or thrown away—who knows?"

There are also poignant poems about gender identity and sexuality. "No One was Gay Back Then" recalls the pain of fifth grade and "Trying to convince everyone and ourselves./ Our small town" before finally kissing a woman at 19 years old. In the erotic "Oysters on the Beach," the speaker tenderly courts her beloved: I want to "Bring you into harvest . . . Your soft, open delicacy."

"All Will Rise" is a song of survival, harmony, and unity orchestrated by the speaker who brings together all the voices in the book:

Steering up from the

Underworld,

Voices like flames

Hitting these oily

Waters.

Crack Open/Emergency unflinchingly examines the many wounds inflicted on women. Rather than become bitter and turn away, the women in these poems move forward. "Still, my words flare, / Wet from my throat" Poppy writes in "In Case of Emergency." Her words are a bright flare illuminating the night sky, a signal, a summons to raise our voices, to speak the truth, to sing.

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