In Sylvia Byrne Pollack’s Risking It, poems take on themes of mortality, deafness, love, and self actualization. Pollack’s poems cut to the quick with poems that entwine powerful images with confident statements. In “Girls Gone Wild,” Pollack subverts the reader’s expectation of what “girls gone wild” looks like: instead of a pair of sorority sisters on Spring Break, the poem describes cancer cells that “want / to take a road trip, reach / the lymph highway ASAP.” The comparison between rogue cells and rogue women is compounded with the two final stanzas: “She came back with a scar her oncologist called / disfiguring but she figured // it was healthy scar tissue, more bonded / than the sorority sisters that hung out there before.” Pollack’s sense of humor is present throughout her collection, often adding unexpected lightness to difficult subjects, making the reader unsure whether to smile or frown, or both. Therein lies the power of Risking It: this book speaks to the multitudes of emotion and experiences that each of us contain.
Pollack also deftly employs spacing in her poetry, most notably in the poems about The Deaf Woman. Pollack follows multiple voices throughout her collection, including Letitia and the Black Dog, among others. Her poems about The Deaf Woman always include purposeful spacing, something explained in the very first poem about The Deaf Woman, titled: “How the Deaf Woman Hears.” Pollack describes being able to hear one in every two words with vibrant imagery: “she hears a word or two thrown (…) / That become the nidus focus center (…)/ This is called filled in the blanks.” Notice the spacing between words, the spacing that mirrors The Deaf Woman’s experience living in a hearing society. Later, in “Prayer Falling on Deaf Ears,” The Deaf Woman requests: “if you decide to answer me, God, / please stand squarely in front of me. / Let me see your lips / when you speak.”
Pollack’s Risking It is about reflection on lives lived and unknown futures. Pollack’s poems are both specific and universal; I encourage you to pick up a copy here today.