Acts of Contrition by Gwendolyn Cash

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Acts of Contrition is the first short book in the first volume of the Lost Horse Press New Poets Series. “Today I’m going to lie about everything” begins Cash in the opening prose poem, “Lies.” The poem, like the whole collection, is actually stark and startling for its honesty, taking up Emily Dickinson’s advice to “tell all the truth but tell it slant.” For example, under the guise of enumerating lies, the speaker tells us:

I’m going to lie about how many times I let a man break my heart, how many times I looked in his eyes hoping for a piece of myself, and finding nothing, crawled into the animal warmth of his body, gambling against the time when there was nothing left to take or give. I’m going to lie about every time I went back and begged him to break me again.

This gritty truth-telling reaches its apex in the title poem, a ten-part long poem sequence where a daughter who feels herself inadequate addresses her abusive mother. The raw imagery, bold address, and dreamlike progression are reminiscent of Galway Kinnell’s early masterwork, The Book of Nightmares.
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