The author of Bestiary returns with a book of resilience, survival and the journey to radically shift one's sense of self in the face of trauma. Moving between a childhood marked by love and abuse and the breaking marriage of that adult child, these poems chart memory and the body as landscapes to be traversed and tended.
The book’s structure allows the reader to see the stitching in the poems’ clothing. I felt brought along the process of the speaker’s reckoning, along a nonlinear and painful but also revelatory path ... This is a raw, fraught book by someone who has felt broken but has nevertheless found, in language, in poetry, the ability to reconstitute the self. It is sort of remarkable ... I found several poems in this collection utterly wrenching. 'Self-Portrait with Door' is one of the most heartbreaking poems I’ve ever read ... her work enters into conversation with the Confessionalists but is less theatrical. More mournful. Differently rendered. Her trauma is not the primary subject; her healing is ... a unique book of poems ... The collection feels like a work of process, a memoir in verse, as I mentioned earlier. The subject matter in these poems is very clear and palpable. I can see these poems resonating with so many readers.
Donika Kelly’s The Renunciations is not content with the singular equivalencies of metaphor. Kelly’s second collection balances transformation and definition, constructing a space beyond naming. These lyric poems offer a resilient 'I,' enlarged to hold the self and memory of the self ('Now' and 'Then') which is to say, the range of human experience which we so often deem impossible for ourselves to carry (and yet we do). That is Kelly’s craft: to manifest two unlike things and say they do not negate one another ... Hers is the divination of the nonbeliever: to make a whole out of parts, or more aptly, to accept parts without a compulsion for completion. In doing so, Kelly engenders her speaker with her own authority of present feeling ... Kelly suggests we are no more than what we are, 'we are the small animals we’ve always been,' and yet what we have been does not exclude a human potential for change—even change that is yet without language. In a collection which asserts the physical nature of the body, of bodies together—which is to say our humanity—Kelly engenders the intangible, an uncertainty which allows the body to be more than its negation. The body does not engage in linear logic but in becoming.
Donika Kelly’s The Renunciations sees its greatest impact when panned out to see the full picture. Zooming out adds nuance. On the whole, Kelly is, as the title suggests, rejecting the contents inside ... The renunciations, then, are Kelly’s reckoning. This elegiac collection on divorce and trauma, when seen from a distance, is a rebellion ... The poems collected here, especially early on, have the accessible, short-phrase-deep-sentiment vibe of Instagram poets ... While reading, I realized I am a giant hypocrite. Language is made to be understood ... And Kelly blurs the line that snobs like me think separates accessible from artful. After some content warnings, I’d give The Renunciations to folks hoping to start reading poetry who believe they don’t 'get it' ... The Renunciations is an approachable example of the great variety of shapes and techniques that poetry can assume. I’d accuse Kelly of showing off if the collection weren’t so deeply vulnerable ... Kelly passes through conversational, poignant, confessional and, through the collection, moves from the moments of acute pain to the moment when healing begins.