Erica Abbott

Self Portrait as a Sinking Ship

Self-Portrait as A Sinking Ship, by Erica Abbott, begins and ends with duality. Its first poem is titled “Darkness and Hope,” and the poem itself is cut into two columns, just like the two pieces of self that Abbott continues to put in opposition throughout her collection. This poem is a prologue, of sorts: afterwards the book itself is cut into two parts, each labeled Darkness and Hope. Darkness brings the reader into the deep end of the persona’s mind. Hope allows the reader space to breathe and “rediscover the universe” (from “How to Stargaze through the Light Pollution”, the last poem in this collection).

Self-Portrait as A Sinking Ship cleaves into the persona’s psyche, examining her relationship with her mental illness and her relationship with the world. This book feels painfully familiar to me; as someone who has struggled with mental illness, it put a vice on my lungs that didn’t loosen until the very last page. The first poem in the section Darkness, titled “10 Things You Should Know About Mental Illness,” has the reader dive right into the beating heart of this work. Abbott writes: “the problem with monsters is that they don’t wear/ name tags when they show up uninvited/ to every party you’ve ever thrown yourself in the hopes/ someone just might hear your breathing shift.” A specific image that brings you right in the room, but also an image that is completely and utterly relatable. 
Abbott’s strength isn’t just in her words- it is also in her craft. Her poems show life before you even begin reading them. For example, her poem “Sandcastles and the Sea,” has lines and stanzas that move back and forth across the page like waves. She includes list poems, prose poems, poems that shape and poems that beg. They are poems that leave you with a different taste in your mouth each time. Abbott is precise, and concise, and knows exactly how to leave incision on the reader’s mind that they are still fiddling with hours later.

Erica Abbott takes something that is isolating- mental illness- and weaves into the thread that connects us all- art. Pick up a copy of Self Portrait as a Sinking Ship today.

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