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.
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.
The book is impeccably structured ... it's Kelly's masterly balance of tone—as she shuttles her attention between such disparate traumas as sexual predation and the moment when two lovers' bodies no longer seem to fit together—that will linger longest, resulting in moments of gentle, heartbreaking melancholy ... Kelly's second effort feels scraped raw, seeking to understand humanity in primal terms in the same way as her debut, but here building to even grander emotional and linguistic crescendo.
... devastating ... These walloping lyrics land like a punch to the gut, but just as powerful is what Kelly elides and omits. In several poems, unspeakable acts are redacted by dark bars or by brackets that hold blank space, resisting closure. A harrowing work of courageous lyricism.