Erin Carlyle’s debut book of poetry, Magnolia Canopy Otherworld, compels readers to ask themselves where the line between animalistic and humanistic lies. This book shows the blurred lines between human and inhuman, especially in relation to young girls and the objectification of their bodies.
Carlyle’s poetry beautifully presents growing up as a young girl in the impoverished South during the opioid crisis. These poems, shown through an animalistic and naturalistic lense, seamlessly presents themes of death, womanhood, motherhood, sexuality, and nature.
The book opens with the quote “Family is family, but even love can’t keep people from eating eachother” by Dorothy Allison. It perfectly sets the tone of the book and constantly floats in the back of the reader’s mind. There are multiple poems within the book about watching parents struggle with alcohol and opioid addiction as well as connecting with their children.
The collection consists of three parts, the first one showing the overall themes that will be present in the parts that follow. The majority of them are about the problems women face for simply being women. Carlyle writes “you are on a bed/ he made of other women’s bodies. He tells you not/ to look, but you can’t/ shut your eyes” in her poem titled “Tales.”
The second part opens with the poem “On the Horizon of Recollection” and shows the reader a soothing image of women in white skirts raising you up from the water, almost like a baptism, but it’s not. “This is not a baptism,/ but a call back to your life after you crawled out of the cave of your mother,/ that old danger.” This is also where the reader’s are introduced to “The Animal” which is a representation of the narrator herself, however the pronouns for The Animal is it/its. The Animal is trying to navigate life and dealing with things such as first blood, sexual awakening, and family trauma.
The majority of part three is about the search of a girl who the narrator had a connection with. This part is the most haunting; the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness reaches out from the page. The book ends with the narrator standing among the dead in the poem “The Afterlife of Women” and they can “smell the oldest/ danger in the air– magnolia on the wind” but their mother calls them home. This theme of motherhood opens the book and closes it. The circularity of motherhood is embraced in this book as well as the hardships and comforts that comes with it.
These poems are based on the stories of Carlyle, the stories of women Carlyle has known in her life, and the stories of women Carlyle has seen on the news. Carlyle’s poetry of these women, including herself, are raw, uncensored, and unapologetic. It’s real, they’re real, and they need to be heard. They need to be felt.
Magnolia Canopy Otherworld magnificently shows the importance of place. The poetry is sharp in the right places, always ready to strike and expose the gory interior when necessary. The collection is a delightful and impactful read, the beauty of the poems perfectly juxtaposes with the darkness of the content. I highly recommend this book, especially to those who understand the animalistic tendencies of men.
Bethany Milholland is a senior at The University of Evansville majoring in Creative Writing. She is the former Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Evansville Review. She is also a former intern for her University’s magazine The Crescent. In her spare time, she enjoys earning a cat’s love and shopping at every thrift store within a thirty-mile radius.
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