Sundress Reads: Review of Self-Destruction in Small Doses

The bleakness of love is something to be unraveled. How do humans navigate the world after it comes crashing down around them? Do we pick up the pieces and sew them together, creating a scattered imitation of what once was? Or is there space to mourn what’s been lost?

Tinamarie Cox’s Self-Destruction in Small Doses (Bottlecap Press, 2023) collects the worst parts of heartbreak and self-isolation in 27 clipped pages of untitled poems. Hurt bleeds through her stanzas and pools in the laps of the audience. Her poetry is an assortment of pain: a punishment the speaker mostly afflicts upon themselves. 

Following a breakup, the speaker suffers from a suspended stillness as the culmination of grief and regret threatens to fracture their very soul. Sorrow gives way to numbness: “[I] dream of spilling my blood / desperate to see color again / even if all I witness is red” (Cox 18). The speaker flickers from an expansive internal void to reflect on their previous lover. The space left behind cannot be easily filled, and so the speaker turns to supply the gap with their own combustion. To ignite themself is to finally feel something after aimless wandering. 

Our speaker keeps remorse and shame in a time capsule to ruminate on. Every misspeak, misstep, and mistake is carefully cataloged and recycled to be torn apart in the dark of night. 

Although the nature of their relationship is unknown, we know the speaker internalizes what transpired, holding that hurt close to their heart. It threatens to devour them, and they’re starved for feeling. Cox writes,

“I only know the noise of

metal grating against the ground 

as I drag their weight behind me.” (23)

Cox’s poems gather at the beginning of each page, leaving the remainder of the space empty. Stanzas slide from start to finish, with minimal punctuation and a vacancy that suspends readers in the same endless anguish the speaker is subjected to. There’s space for readers to contemplate, reflect on our own lives and intricacies. Can we see the annihilation of self within our past actions? Or is the speaker’s pain a foreign concept?

Cox’s writing is visceral. She engages with an aspect of human nature in her narrative: the consumption of misery and emotional implosion. The speaker shatters before our very eyes. This destruction isn’t sustainable but it’s realistic. In one poem, they threatened to sledgehammer their way through their mold, before they “disappear again” (Cox 26). Our speaker has become a shell of their former self, a husk of who they once were. They take on the blame and idolize the person who’s left them behind. In their eyes, there must have been a definitive cause for the separation.

The speaker searches for an answer, something definitive to rationalize their fracturing resolve. In an earlier poem, Cox writes,

“I only know the noise of

metal grating against the ground 

as I drag their weight behind me.” (23)

They decide they’re the reason, and it anchors them to what’s been left behind. Still, they stand. Earlier in the collection, for example, the speaker goes through the motions of everyday life, leaving pieces of themselves in their wake. The audience bares witness:

“Spinning in circles is tearing me apart
and I’m not sure I can keep stitching myself back together with these frayed threads.”  (Cox 10). 

Is love hopeless? Is there a loss too great to recover from? Cox doesn’t conclude with a happily ever after or even some semblance of hope. And she doesn’t need to. Resolution comes in stages and is rarely linear. As readers, we enter the speaker’s life as an interloper, gazing at their distress with passive interest. And, as soon as we arrive, we leave without so much as a whisper of relief in their near future.

Self-Destruction in Small Doses embarks on a journey of loss and the slaughtering of someone in love. It’s brutality in its proper form. It’s heartbreak. And, most importantly, it’s real. An unfiltered truth of what can happen when we lose ourselves in another person. 

Self-Destruction in Small Doses is available from Bottle Cap Press


K Slade (she/her) is a Black gothic and speculative fiction writer pursuing a BS in Digital Journalism and a Japanese minor at Appalachian State University. She currently serves as Visual Managing Editor for The Appalachian, her collegiate newspaper, and specializes in multimedia journalism. Horror media deeply inspired her love for the craft and in the future, K wants to write a script for a horror game. After undergrad, she hopes to move to New York and pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. 

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