Peter Mason

PERENNIAL

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PERENNIAL, BY KELLY FORSYTHE

Kelly Forsythe’s Perennial comes at an important time—amidst our country’s ongoing conversation about school shootings, which have grown commonplace. Her poems meditate on survival and the trauma of Columbine, as well as the aftermath. The collection leans into and interrogates memory, masculinity, childhood, and grief in the face of tragedy and violence—how and who we blame, how and who we don’t. In Forsythe’s poem “1999,” the speaker looks at herself just shortly after the shooting, in unabashed conversation, “Lord, forgive me the chat rooms. I am only an observer, I am only a witness to events . . . The recoil from his shotgun caught him straight in the face, breaking his nose, causing it to bleed . . . he looked as though he had been drinking blood . . .” The intensity found here captures the swell of trauma as it only amasses, with little to no reprieve—her language is beautiful, but the reader is always aware of where they are in the poems—the historical and emotional gravity of Columbine is never lost. From “Planer Notes, 7th Grade,” “By the end / of April, we were / examining our own / potential for violence. / It wasn’t that he was less / immaculate. Safety // had changed & no one / was ready; we were / hitting the windows / with our palms, asking / to be looked after . . .” To the end, Perennial is intimate and unflinching in its capacity to pull the reader into these moments—beautiful and frightening in its emotional unfurling. It is not a light read, but it is a vital one.

Coffee House Press.

—Review by Peter Mason