3 out of 4 stars
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One of my personal goals this year is to read more poetry. This goal came from reading Carolyn Forche’s memoir What You Have Heard is True. It reminded me of how much I love the way poets understand and use language. They put words together in ways the rest of us would never think of and create amazing works of beauty in the process.
One of the things that drew me to Scars of Apollo by Robin Williams was the description of the book having two parts. The “scars” section discusses trauma, heartbreak, and loss. The “Apollo” section talks about healing, recovery, and acceptance. Both sections deal with mental health, though in different ways.
When I first picked up the book, I quickly read it all the way through and just experienced it. I paid almost no attention to anything other than the words and the form of the words on the page. It was a beautiful experience. I then went back and read it a second time with a more critical eye.
The poems in this book are mostly free verse, though there are a few poems that follow a strict rhyme scheme. This book plays with the form of the poetry on the page. Alignment changes often from poem to poem, and sometimes within the poem itself. Some words drop from the end of a line, written vertically to draw the reader’s eye down. This playing with the physical form of the poems, along with the illustrations that accompany many of the poems, adds a visual element to the experience of reading the poetry.
Oftentimes, that kind of visual experience is created to hide the fact that the poem itself is not a carefully crafted work of art. But that is not the case here. Just about every poem in the collection could be read aloud and have full effect on the listener.
The weakest poems in the collection were those that veered away from the poet’s direct experience and instead were reactions to other things going on in the world.
Not every poem is titled, but those that are have the titles at the end of the poem in italics, almost like one last line that adds to the meaning of what you just read.
My favorite thing about this book is the way it references itself, to help the reader understand the path of healing. Take this poem from early in “scars”
“A spoonful of sugar a day
does not make you sweeter;
you’re still a monster,
just with a gentler bite before you kill.
- oh how you fooled me”
The second poem in “Apollo” refers directly back to it.
“A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,
but the medicine won’t cure your heartache,
especially not since you picked up the wrong
- drugs won’t heal your heart,
These references tie the two parts of the book together and help the reader understand that even as the poet moved into “Apollo”, the “scars” were not gone. But they were healing.
I rate Robin William’s Scars of Apollo three out of four stars. This book came very close to four stars as the poems really did speak to me. But the poems I referenced that felt like they were about the world broke my immersion and seemed to be more about making a political statement than sharing the poet’s personal experience. In addition, though I rarely care about punctuation in poetry as long as each poem has internal consistency, there were a number of poems where the punctuation was not consistent.
Scars of Apollo, like many poetry books, does not tell a cohesive story, but it does leave you with a feeling of having been on a journey with the poet, in this case, a journey of recovery. Robin Williams dedicates this book “To the warriors”. I have no doubt she is one herself.
Scars of Apollo
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