A Review of The River Is Everywhere by Amanda Oaks

This world take and takes, our time and our love, our refuse and our bodies, in ways symbolic and literal, this world takes. But in this taking, in the endless ebb and flow of the tide pulling trickling streams down through river valleys to the sea, there is also war. There is pain. There are those who suffer and those who instill.

This is the territory Amanda Oaks explores in her new chapbook The River is Everywhere.

It begins with the image of a river swallowing bodies and all our human detritus, the things this society casts away, things that once held promise and value, now stripped bare by a life that is relentless, absorbed now by the world, by a river that is everywhere, always flowing, swallowing whole.

What Will The River Swallow Today?

A woman’s body, maybe two. A song
that fell from the lips of a phantom lover.
An empty pack of cigarettes, three beer bottles,
two matches, one promise & one lie.

In a way the poems feel like a series of horror stories, revealing a societal horror, a natural horror too, with the pain emanating from a place all too patriarchal and indifferent. No, not indifferent. Hungry. It wants more. It wants love and sex and life and all the tender moments and stability, and if it cannot have it, it will take whatever it can get—pain, suffering, lapping it up, wanting to hear it explained, uttered, given meaning through vocalization so it can enjoy it all the more.

These terrors are rooted in the natural instincts of relationships, but this natural origin is all too often a destructive and harrowing thing. And yet in these poems we find hints of endurance, defiance, stark notice that some will fight back, that nature may hold a long-standing domain, but if it will win, it will not win without a fight.

In “River of Her Mouth”, Oaks hints at all that has been held back over the years, and one gets the feeling that things will not be held back forever. In the third act of this poem, the gifts women give men (lips, for instance) have become a sort of secret incendiary device, as if she is offering everything the destructive forces in the world want, a last meal of sorts, only to watch as these gifts destroy those very forces.

You know they’ll be your
last supper before the world is muffled & you’re both
left to the vultures; when you’re both left lonely &

But despite moments of defiance, the grief that comes from the many forms of damaging, destructive love in this world can be too much to even put into words, yet Oaks does so beautifully in “When the River Asks Me to Describe My Grief”. It is a grief so indescribable that in the very moment of its revelation through our lips the whole world collapses, a process dissected in what is by far the best poem I’ve read on hidden unnamable suffering I have ever read. Attempting to conjure the words to explain her grief:

“felt more like
tumbling down a staircase
into the basement of a heart
that no longer relays rhythm,
my shoveled out stomach—
a hearse, a grave, a place
for it to rain memory,
to flood, to send your body out
to river, to ocean,
to sky.

Damn. If that’s the war inside each of us, facing off against gender, sex, love, and hope, then the old adage could never be truer—love is indeed hell, and we have a long forever ahead of us to walk in order to find our way out.

The River is Everywhere is available in a limited run from Red Flag Press.

- by James H Duncan


1 comment:

  1. When I read Amanda's book I was struck by the extended metaphor I felt I was experiencing ... I really need to re-read each of the poems in a more peaceful setting than the one in place during my first reading ... thanks for this review! DaP


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