Sundress Reads: Review of Bath by Jen Silverman

The Sundress Reads logo is black and white and features a fluffy sheep drinking a mug of tea, reading a book, and sitting cross-legged on a stool.
The cover of Bath by Jen Silverman centers a photograph of a shadowy white woman with closed eyes and wet skin and hair. The image is in dark and blue tones and the title and author's name is in a silver, linear font that fades at the edges.

In an interview with Jerrod Schwarz included at the end of the collection, Jen Silverman explains that she “wanted to contend with a multitude of possibilities” surrounding baths. “You can be immersed or submerged. You can be bathed in sensation, you can be deluged in light.” Water surrounds us in bathtubs and fills us as we drink; the language of Jen Silverman’s Bath (Driftwood Press, 2022) similarly surrounds and fills.

The purpose of water and other liquids shifts throughout Bath. Water may “quiver like a fugitive” as it flashes a reflection. Speakers are “treading water” or use “each hand cupped / on a different set of promises.” Water creates “ocean-memory / sharp as brine” and sparks “the fountain of youth.”

Nevertheless, “the fountain of youth” has “a limit” and is described as “a steam-choked pool.” In Bath, water is not only a regenerator or refresher; baths are threatening and ominous, even deadly. This subversion is seen most clearly in Silverman’s twisting of baptism, a holy and divine type of bath. In “Bath 6,” “they dropped you in the river. They said / Praise Jesus, Praise Him. You bobbed up / half-drowned… Somewhere in / the river mud, you lost your God.” Or, similarly, in “Bath 3,” “you baptize yourself in sorrow, again and again. / You baptize yourself with bourbon and brandy.” Here, baths are not spiritual experiences, but a destructive power that traps and chokes.

Most poems take place in a specified location, like “Boston,” “Louisville,” or “Cairo.” These locations help differentiate poems that investigate similar themes and often include nameless characters. Silverman explains that “there’s a lot of truth to be found in the details—what a place looks and smells like, the quality of its light—but also the specificity of… language.” The setting, like water itself, is fluid and changing. The reader can’t know where the speaker most belongs, where they are most at home, or where they were raised. 

In “The Devil Dogs My Steps, but if it Weren’t Him, it Would Just be Someone Else,” the speaker of the poem is “living in Cincinnati.” She isn’t sure that Cincinnati is home—she even asks “if you can call this living.” But, in Cincinnati, the Devil “calls” and “lingers.” The Devil and the speaker walk and talk together, even as he oversteps and complicates. “He isn’t invited per se, / but also, / he isn’t not.” “The Devil says: / I like to come home because it reminds me / what a disaster we make / of what’s ours.” But where is home for the speaker of this poem, or the speakers of Bath? Does the speaker avoid home to avoid her created disasters, as the Devil suggests, or is home found in relationships, in all their chaos and their miracles? As “a beefy woman at the bar says: / I like to travel because it reminds me / how great it is to be home.”

From this perspective, the role of water seems to foster connection. For example, “when I shower, you sit on the floor, / only steam between us.” Water fills the space between people, and a father’s love for his newborn daughter in “Bath 8” “becomes a weather-system / of love.” A few weeks later “he has panic attacks / all the time.” Relationships, and the delight and terror they cause, are as necessary as drinking water. The speaker explains that they “can’t stop thinking / that I’m going to die.” “Groceries, laundry, / bills of course, / but even the good stuff / …that stuff too: / gonna die.” Death anxiety follows the delight of interpersonal connection; this becomes a metaphor for humanity’s relationship with water, where the very thing we need to survive can kill so easily.

In “Bath 11,” the final poem of the collection, the speaker wonders “how strange it is: all the ways we are given to make / family.” For all the heartache of community, the speaker does not isolate herself. She spends New Year’s Eve with a kind of family, and her “ex’s wife tells us about giving birth / to their daughter.” On one hand, the scene seems full of fractured connection: the ex that married someone else, the foreshadowing of “B and I… breaking up,” and “my partner… that has yet to arrive.” And yet, when asked “to explain all this, / …what could I say but: Love.” In all of this, Silverman keeps bathing, even in the face of every potential loss.

Bath is available at Driftwood Press


A white woman with red hair, round, tortoise shell glasses, and a blue coat sits on a stone bench against a stone wall and looks directly at the camera.

Hailey Small is based in Wilmore, Kentucky, where she writes lyric prose and watches gingko leaves turn soft each November. Hailey is a junior at Asbury University, working towards a BA in English and History. She enjoys working in Asbury’s writing center, where she partners with remedial English students to make academia and creative writing more accessible. Most recently, Hailey was published in The Asbury Review, where she also serves as the creative non-fiction editor, and anthrowcircus.com

Meet Our New Intern: Hailey Small

A white woman with red hair, round, tortoise shell glasses, and a blue coat sits on a stone bench against a stone wall and looks directly at the camera. She is wearing a gold band on her right pointer finger.

E. P. Tom Sawyer State Park comes alive towards the back. In high school, my friends and I followed the trails past no trespassing signs, hiking away from wide-open soccer fields and into the shade of Kentucky oaks. We smacked at mosquitos and hammocked with owls. We brought lemon meringue pies and spinach salads to picnics. We ranted about Shakespeare plays we had never studied and dreamed of becoming the kind of women who wrote poetry.

I imagined plaid trousers, thick notebooks, round, tortoise shell glasses and the smell of cinnamon. I wanted to stain my fingers with ink and drink out of deep mugs. I dreamed of a life that fit the aesthetic of poetry, where words came easily, because no one told me that writing was supposed to be difficult. When I struggled with language or line breaks or images, I assumed I just didn’t fit the theme and stopped trying.

And then college. My first semester hit like a thick rain, cold and sticky, and in an effort to make friends I started to explore the creative side of my university. I found Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” taped to an office door, the campus literary magazine, a curly haired creative writing professor who told me to “say yes to yourself” and encouraged me to go outside again. I started to explore my rural college town. I found a wooden bridge and a blonde dog without tags. Cross country trails coated in my first college blizzard. February blooms that looked like bird beaks.

When everything in my new life was difficult and lonely, the difficult work of writing became much more inviting. I wrote my first lyric essay and typed page after page of creative non-fiction, twisting language in a way that, eventually, became poetic. This form gave me grace; instead of worrying about line breaks or stanzas, I spit up metaphors that were delightfully nonsensical. Late autumn leaves were pirate’s currency, chipped and roughed, hanging from a past season and unsure how to fall. I was learning how to create beautiful things, but also how to communicate with my readers and with myself.

Over the last two and a half years of consistently writing and studying this craft, I’ve learned that the poetic life isn’t just an aesthetic. Instead, it means choosing to live as Mary Oliver taught me, letting “the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” It’s applying to an internship that, frankly, I never thought I’d actually get. I’m thrilled to have been selected for the editorial internship at Sundress Publications, and excited to contribute to it.

Every time I visit my hometown, between every semester and summer job, for every fall and spring break where I have nowhere better to go, I always travel back to Tom Sawyer Park. These days, I mostly visit alone. My high school girls are scattered with their Ivy Leagues and husbands. My precious college friends don’t seem to fit, like square pegs in a round hole or a word you can feel but can’t remember. Instead, I bring my gray blue tote bag, a Sharpie s-gel pen, and my fake leather journal that I’ve kept since last summer. I bring Mary Oliver and Ada Limón and Wendell Berry and Frank X Walker and, if I’m feeling romantic, Dorothy Wordsworth. I sit on thick, low hanging tree branches and admire lichen with a pen in my hand. I have become the kind of woman who writes poetry.


Hailey Small is based in Wilmore, Kentucky, where she writes lyric prose and watches gingko leaves turn soft each November. Hailey is a junior at Asbury University, working towards a BA in English and History. She enjoys working in Asbury’s writing center, where she partners with remedial English students to make academia and creative writing more accessible. Most recently, Hailey was published in The Asbury Review, where she also serves as the creative non-fiction editor, and anthrowcircus.com