A Review of The Debt or the Crisis by Ashleigh Lambert

By James H Duncan

This small but powerful book examines the burdens and expectations that come with this debt we seem to be inevitably saddled with, a burden assigned to us as we try to just get through the day to day, never mind the endless stream of crisis, supposed responsibility, expectations, requirements, prerequisites, transitions and transactions deemed necessary or frivolous, depending on who is judging—and everyone is judging.

Choice vs. necessity, risk glancing off reward. Emergency opposed to a disaster that remains. My heart bid my hand stay while my hand signed a pledge.

As evident in Lambert’s poems, sometimes the harshest judge is our own selves, prodded on by societal expectations. We shame ourselves for what we want, even for what we need. We keep moving through this world trying to unburden while burdening anyway, taking on the weight, asking for more. Lambert’s poems almost sound like a cry for help from the deep end of the pool, arms thrashing in the water rising above her as she plunges downward tied to cement bricks of debt she, we, all of us, you, the world tied to her feet at birth.

Of course some people buy pleasure to throw debt off the scent. I see friends drinking mimosas, enjoying hours they don’t really possess.

Lambert’s untitled pieces straddle the space between stream-of-conscious notes and highly tuned insights in which each line, word, and idea plays off the one prior and the one following, every element attuned and timed just right. Her poems are thoughtful and wise, as much as terrifying and true. They’re made of the thoughts that keep us up at night.

There is no debt without threat of violence. “The violence and the quantification—are intimately linked. Bondage begets bondage. What you can salvage equals what you can claim.

Lambert poses the questions and harrowing answers all in one, casting us all in a victim’s glow and a persecutor’s harsh light. We’re all a part of this. We all justify. Lambert even suggests that we can reach that point where debt almost makes sense, where it justifies the natural order. It’s one of those “it is what it is” things in this world people will use as a weapon against us and we’ll shrug and say, what’s new? But while Lambert poses possibilities, she never strays far from the wrenching truths that haunt us in the face of debt and crisis.

I have math anxiety, that fear of never amounting.

Preach it.

The Debt and the Crisis is a gorgeously bound, designed, and executed book of poems and is available from Doublecross Press.       

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