Review: Messengers of the Gods by Kathryn Gahl — The Mistress of the House of Books
I’ve always had a soft spot for poetry. It’s one of my favorite genres and when I first started writing it was one of the first things I tried my hand at — aside from writing in my diary. There’s something so special in saying so much with so few words. Poetry has a way of getting under my skin and making it prickle.
I have several favorites; notably Marianne Moore, an American Modernist poet who was the subject of my thesis. I tend to be drawn toward poets of the past, and I would be remiss in not mentioning my love for Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. When it comes to contemporary poets, I (like most) love Rupi Kaur and her beautifully illustrated works.
When Cornerstone Press reached out with an early copy of Kathryn Gahl’s poetry collection Messengers of the Gods, I was thrilled to read it. It’s made up of six different sections which range from Mood, Frame, Timing, Becoming, Being, to Dreaming.
Gahl’s style ranges throughout the book, making it interesting and enrapturing to read. She moves from stream of consciousness to sonnets to free verse to alternate rhymes and beyond. The thread that brings the entire collection together, however, is the theme of dance. Dance clearly holds a special place in the author’s heart. In a lot of ways, it makes sense. Poetry can give you the feeling of dancing across the page as you read. You feel a similar experience as a writer. You are dancing with words and posing them just right on the page.
In the same way that dancing is a full-body experience, so is reading — and writing — poetry. Love, separation, and heartache also come up many times in Messengers of the Gods, which, again, is understandable. Was not poetry created to talk about love?
Gahl hits her stride almost immediately. There are poems that I loved in all of the sections of the book. In addition to dance and love, she also speaks much about what it’s like to live in small-town America. As someone who grew up in a small town myself, albeit on the beach and not in a cornfield, I felt myself relating to her words on several levels.
I have a few favorites. Sense of a Woman is in Frame and begins with the line:
“My mother never
promised me a damn thing
not after she promised to love honor and obey
not after she failed to love
honor and obey the pistil in her own flower”
- pg 22
It is stream of consciousness at its finest and traces a family history between a mother, grandmother, and daughter, and is filled with a mish-mash of memories. The narrator remembers moments from her childhood (when her mother kicks her father out of the bedroom) as well as memories from her own life. A Dutch hotel, coffee in the Alps, and a lover with jet-black hair are all recalled with stunning words and beautiful descriptions. This type of writing can be difficult to wrap your head around, but ever since I’ve started reading more Virginia Woolf I can’t get enough of it.
The final favorite that I’ll share as I don’t want to spoil the entire collection for you is called Of Blue Fire in the Becoming section. It’s perhaps my favorite piece in the book. As you can read on the final page of the book, Gahl left a career in nursing to nurture her love of writing. This poem touches on her experiences from start to finish: ultimately choosing a career where she could make money, the things she saw as a nurse in a maternity ward, what she had to give up, and the criticisms she received from her new writing professors. All in one poem.
The language she uses is tight, accurate, and yet perplexing and bewitching. I can’t help but quote my favorite section:
“I longed to sit and read — read until the cows came home.
But Williams Obstetrics and Neonatal Resuscitation
(not Whitman or Nabokov) staved off liability
that grew from love
that made those bursting women
(some still girls) pant
until they couldn’t. Then, they scream
- pg 58
As someone who gives up much of my personal writing time for my professional writing time, this piece hit home for me and made me question what I want out of life. I write this in the most positive way possible. I’ve been putting my personal projects to the side (other than this website) for years now and it’s time to put a stop to my own self-sabotage.
This collection of poetry made me reminisce about my childhood and look toward my future. It’s a beautiful work and I recommend all poetry-lovers to pick up a copy.