Feathers stuck beneath your eyelids don’t you dare rub them
Or you’ll spark your dry mind on fire
—“Starve the Beast”
Reading Motherlover, it’s clear that the speaker’s mind is alight. The voice is bold and in your face; the voice of a woman taking up space. Unexpected twists of language give energy to the poems: “Guts lined with wet fur that had never seen light” (from “Gaslight”); “The ground is softening: raising up the smell of offspring and ghosts.” (“Easter Egg”) The text is daring, purposefully so: “What would you do to my resting bitch face” (from “Gaslight”).
The first section, “Gaslight,” is straightforward, harsh, sometimes accusatory, combating the foggy, anxious experience of being the victim of gaslighting. The book as a whole embodies a struggle between love and selfhood, often reflecting on the challenges of being a woman with strong feelings and opinions while simultaneously having to live in relation to others:
No one ever listens when they ask
Except later when they crash into my words
And think they’re listening to themselves
I’m a daughter and used to remaining unmentioned
—“Stay Away from my Windows No One is Welcome”
Much of the final section of the book, “Prairie Lighthouse,” remains difficult for me to parse. The lines sometimes feel haphazard, and many images feel either too personally specific or too abstract for me to connect to. But these poems are not without power, similar to, though structurally more wayward than, what came before.
There is still something radical and brave about unflattering honesty, and in a sense also a frank beauty to the vulnerability of statements like the opening lines of one of Ko’s “Night Signatures”: “My self-sufficiency has disappeared. I pick up five-dollar pulp books / when I buy cigarettes and I read them at home / in front of television talk shows.” There is so much evoked in these lines, a combination of loneliness and not giving a fuck that’s poignant and refreshing. The emotionality of the text is unapologetic; the cleverness of the lines is tempered by emotional depth.
I will not pretend to understand all of Motherlover. But what stays with me and touches me is liberating, a vulnerable voice speaking honestly of heartbreak and rebellion.