The cover image of Jennifer Still’s second collection of poems, Girlwood, is very fitting; you have a mother embracing a young daughter with a bulldozer disturbing the Earth in front of them. Still’s poetry explores what it is to be a girl, and to a lesser extent, a mother, and the relationships between the two. The narrators of the poems are depicted as being very vulnerable. As the collection progresses the reader is taken through questions of identity, roles in society, domesticity, sexuality and sexual urges, and a variety of other bonds that tie together a mother and her daughter.
This isn’t the kind of collection that you could easily pull out one individual poem as an example of Still’s talents. These short poems are brought together to form longer sequences of poems. Each poem leads into the next and is connected to its predecessor. All of the verse poems have a strong lyrical quality to them. They flow flawlessly from start to finish with very sharp imagery that is vividly expressed in sometimes only two or three words. The author also does a great job with how the poems are presented on the page; the line breaks and margins are an integral part of the book, they force the reader to briefly pause and reflect on what was just said. My favorite part of the book is the series of prose poems titled “Track”, sequentially numbered from 1 to 5. I felt that these poems were great introductions to the sequences and really set the tone for the subsequent sections.
Girlwood is definitely a collection for anyone who likes reading about mother/daughter relationships and family dynamics. Jennifer Still does a masterful job at bringing out the deepest desires and feelings of her characters. The book flows very well, the images and narrators are memorable, and the structure of the poems, whether they are verse or prose, is excellent. 2011 has already been a great year for new collections of poetry and so far Girlwood is definitely one of the best. More info about the book, and the publisher Brick Books, can be found here.