"New American Best Friend" by Oliva Gatwood - Poetry Review

"like maybe the whole town knew what happened there. like maybe no one could get rid of the blood."

New American Best Friend is a devotion to "getting rid of the blood", an unflinching progression from adolescence to adulthood that holds all of the rage and helplessness of such a modern journey. Gatwood's narration has a truthful quality to it that even many of the mainstream progressive feminist poets have failed to possess; she is not striving to make these hurts beautiful or relatable, and as such, does both. There is a power in her poetry that expresses no desire to impress anyone, but rather, to relieve oneself of the burden of a lifetime of stories, trauma or otherwise.

Gatwood's writing is not altogether universal, a quality that many readers found failing. Though much of her poetry expresses hardships which are understood by a vast group of her readers, there is more to this composition that gives it the candid quality which I, and so many others, have admired. Gatwood's experience is uniquely her own, from her familiarity with The Long Island Women, the "American Best Friend" theme throughout that distinguishes her family's place in the vastness of a world that is often American-centered and should not be, to her experiences with trauma. There is the sense that she is writing as much for herself as for anyone else, which has been praised in classic poets long before the world arrived to relate to them in stolen phrases such as the undying "I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable," from Song of Myself or "Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift," by Mary Oliver.

Reading this was a combination of realizing that it was not wholly mine to relate to, and recognizing Gatwood's talent with visual, immersive, modern language. If you listen closely enough, I would swear that you can hear the author's voice reading the book to you. Her tone is both intimate and brassy, easily distinguishable from a crowd, demanding your attention both to the page, and to the world around you. Despite the above quote, Gatwood is not Mary Oliver, Sylvia Plath, or Elizabeth Bishop, and she is not trying to be. The individualistic command of modern poetry and clear understanding of accessible language and a modern lexicon as it evolves, put to use to convey a specific atmosphere, demonstrates a sharp mind and strong sense of self; all a reader can truly ask for when allowed a glimpse into a piece of literature so deeply personal.

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