Stephanie M. Wytovich’s latest poetry collection, On the Subject of Blackberries, dishes up sugar-coated fruit pervaded with poison and decay, each poem a rot-infested berry picked by a bleeding hand from a bush of brambles.
The most harrowing part of this collection is Wytovich’s raw confession of mental health struggles brought on by postpartum depression following the birth of her first child. She speaks candidly and bravely about this issue in the “Author’s Note” and “The Witchcraft of Writing,” both of which darken the stage for what’s to come.
Divided into ten sections, the collection begins with “the memory of poison,” dark drupelets that, bitten into, squirt with tart paranoia, shred with thorns as sharp as raptors’ talons. Wytovich paints imagistic words in black and beautiful strokes—some with a desperate flourish, others with a spatter of rage.
Throughout, we encounter revelations of instability and turmoil masked with a smile that’s begun to crack:
- “I force my body into a kindness” (35)
- “a black mound of sugar, / hysterically unhappy / but polite” (36)
You’ll find beliefs abandoned and a violent darkness, now embraced; murderous admissions rising from a whitewashed tomb.
In the third section, Wytovich shares sparks of light, a needed breather from the smothering angst of the opening pieces.
Wytovich’s poems remind me of Emily Dickinson’s, cloistered with her depressive and damning thoughts, of murders premeditated—or committed with motives unanalyzed, as if surprised at the results of spontaneous action.
My favorites: “I carried knives”; “I washed out the space in my head”; “The quiet kill of stars pushes darkness.”
The collection, which Raw Dog Screaming Press has published in hardcover, is sprinkled with Victorian etchings that complement overall themes and images from individual poems. This is a gorgeous volume for any reader’s collection. Add it to yours.
Wytovich asks, “Do you think I’m safe with these / dirty hands?” (114) You be the judge.
On the Subject of Blackberries was a delectably disturbing read. You owe it to yourself to taste its bitter fruit.
Stephanie M. Wytovich, MFA
On the Subject of Blackberries
Stephanie M. Wytovich
ISBN: 9781947879638, $24.95 hardcover (128 pages)
Raw Dog Screaming Press