REVIEW: If the Girl Never Learns

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It has been awhile since I wrote a review, but I recently received an advanced copy of Sue William Silverman’s If the Girl Never Learns: Poems through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

This book cuts, bites, and kicks its way through myths, horror films, and everyday life. The collection is divided into three sections (“The Girl and the Man,” “The Girl and the Myth,” and “The Girl and the End”), all of which carry the same bold attitude and voice.

Each poem references The Girl, a character who lives in settings ranging from the mundane to the esoteric. While reading, I gradually reached the assumption that The Girl is a single person, not multiple unique people in different time periods and circumstances. This really affected my reactions to poems in the first of the three sections and informed my second reading of the collection.

There were parts that felt very, for a lack of a better word, edgy. This may be because of the often hyper-sexualized, violent, and devil-may-care attitude of The Girl. That is not to say that she can’t or shouldn’t be those things – in fact, the sexualization and history of trauma are possibly what makes The Girl so relatable to me and likely many other readers. There are mentions of rape and implications of incest in some of the poems, so if that is something that you are sensitive toward, you may want to avoid this book. Silverman also includes lots of mentions of the Russian Jewish diaspora, something that also seems to significantly shape the identity of The Girl.

There are some powerful visuals in several of the poems, and many of them are quite memorable as standalone poems. Examples include “If the Girl Refuses” (“At the bottom of the ocean a glued-together horse, derelict with/driftwood, nudges her spine.”), “If the Girl Considers Predestination” (“Ghost babies cling/to the hem/of her velveteen dress.”), and “If the Girl is a Slut” (“Clouds wafting on floors/lavish with weather, fucking/in season”). The titular poem also stands out with its blunt and vivid language (“misguided cells slit her arteries”).

The Girl is damaged, The Girl is a fighter, The Girl fucks, The Girl feels. Silverman’s blunt language blended with memorable visuals make both The Girl and If the Girl Never Learns: Poems painfully honest and easy to connect with.

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