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Graywolf Press




Poetry Book
Blackacre by Monica Youn
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reviewed by Jennifer Michael Hecht

Like “John Doe” but for property, “blackacre” is a name one uses as a placeholder, for example, “Note the result if John Doe leaves Blackacre to Jane Doe with the stipulation that, say, she never marry Shorty.” Youn is a former lawyer and her book Blackacre is about an absence, ostensibly a hoped-for child, but also something yet more universal like a stake in the world or temperamental access to its richness. The book is a vivid rendering of waiting in a white room for a door to open up into the battlefield of motherhood. Most of the book’s poems tell of “fistfuls of / air” and such ambivalence that the prologue poem, the only pleading poem, ends with the words “I don’t want,” and a similar phrase shows up in the book’s first (next) poem too. There are hints of shame at having had a fallow relationship to life. The word white repeats many times, mostly in the sense of overbrightness, or a blank, and also, of course, as a word referring to race. A tension about identity is part of the poet’s resistance. Change comes in the final section of the book, which opens with a poem describing an ultrasound image of an apparent pregnancy that is gone in a day. The section is in conversation with Milton’s famous blind-poet predicament (“They also serve who only stand and waite”), but while the poet tells us about the unspeakable patience required from her, she is letting herself be exposed. Now there is blood, now there are biohazards, legs in stirrups, a branch awaiting grafting, “bark peeled back from one exposed split, uptilted as if eager for the grafted slip.” Blackacre is a visit to an in-between, liminal world, with much to think about while we are there.

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This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall–Winter 2016.

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