Brute: Poems By Emily Skaja

4.75 stars

This was one of my most anticipated poetry books for 2019, and it did not disappoint. Perhaps most impressive is the cohesiveness of the collection, and its structure. It's a pet peeve of mine when poetry collections are broken up into sections that have no rhyme or reason, but here the section demarcations feel purposeful. Also, A+ choice of epigraphs for the section titles! I appreciated the frequent use of repetition, not just within individual poems but throughout the collection: the use of brute in different ways; the multiple elegy, letter, and aubade poems; and Greek references. There's a sense of momentum and full immersion into the speaker's world.
Skaja writes about well-tread subjects but frankly does them better than most. For example, this collection has one of the best break-up poems I've ever read (In Defeat I Was Perfect), and it hit me like a brick wall.
I recommend this collection to anyone, honestly, but especially to women who have felt the impotent rage of being gaslit, betrayed, or otherwise hurt by gendered violence. Skaja's poems made me feel both seen and empowered with their tenderness and unflinching observation. I can tell this collection will be even more rewarding upon re-reading.

Update 7/31/20
Finally had a chance to reread this collection and it was a very rewarding reread. This time around I was most impressed with Skaja's ability to subvert clichés and write towards the negative space in a poem (see Elegy With A Shit-Brown River Running Through It for a good example of this). I was also ruminating on the fact that this collection functions as a modern example of confessional poetry. Skaja deals with so many of the same themes and subjects that you see in Insta Poetry, but her craft transcends the simplicity of those contemporaries. I still thoroughly recommend this collection! 72 a girl handles grief and nature watches. i love it. 72 Everyone really should be on the lookout for Emily Skaja’s debut collection of poetry, Brute. Skaja ruminates on gender and violence, self-discovery and self-reinvention, agency and survival as she rises out of a tumultuous relationship. It’s Adele’s 21 in poetry form, and it’s just as emotionally satisfying as that album. She works through some tough shit and asks us to see this Brute in all of its forms. And as she works through her emotions, we see how debilitating it can be; but we also see how it’s not all-powerful and that she, and we, can overcome. Skaja won the Walt Whitman Award with this collection and it’s much deserved. I wholeheartedly recommend. 72 A garden of pain lit by blue moon - beautiful wounding. 72 I liked the themes that Emily Skaja used in her poetry, pertaining to nature and femininity. However, I did find her poetry to be largely redundant, as I have found most collections of poetry by modern poets tend to be. Oftentimes, I have found that these poets focus on the events of their life and their empowerment in a way that comes off as self-important to the poetry itself. As in, the poem is about Emily Skaja for Emily Skaja and maybe her friends that helped her through the struggles. Her language is beautiful, although oftentimes congested and jumping from Biblical allusion to a quotation of something someone once said to her.

I enjoyed this collection in the beginning, and I like many of the poems as concepts, but it eventually did start feeling too much like most modern poetry, just prettified by a better use of language. I think Skaja is a good writer but I found her poetry weak most of the time and underwhelming in terms of a lack of emotional reach, a redundancy in her language, and a congestion in her composition.

We observe the moon at opposite intervals.
By now you've seen my constellations, the jaw of a wolf.
Can you tell that the stars are on fire with longing? 72


This was a powerful collection of poems about the rage and heartbreak of a relationship in which she gave her love and attention to someone who didn’t deserve it. The poems are often bleak yet fierce and display the conflicting emotions involved in loving someone who may not be the best for us. Strong, raw emotions here in this deeply engaging poetry collection. 72 Painful but riveting poems about the end of a relationship/s. Also who we are within a relationship, especially women, but these poems stay personal. Beautiful bird imagery. Skaja is unsparing in her self-examination and in allowing her vulnerability show to the world while containing all of this in carefully constructed forms, with a wide variety of structures. There is also clearly a reason one of the sections is headed with a quote from a Sylvia Plath poem.

72 This powerful debut collection deserves multiple readings and I've read most of them out loud as well. The end of an unhealthy relationship comes with damage and these poems reflect all of it. Some reposition the narrative to defend the person who finally got out, some are confrontational, some speak to the shared experience many women have. When I marked favorites to share it was practically every poem but my two top poems are probably Brute / Brute Heart (read in Crab Orchard Review) and No, I Do Not Want to Connect with You on LinkedIn (also posted on The Rumpus.)

This past year has been my first subscribed to the Graywolf Galley Club, and they sent this debut collection as a gift for a debut donor. Neat idea and I'm glad this is the collection they chose. 72 The poems in Emily Skaja’s Brute speak of brutality, of breaking, of endings, of beginnings. Brute is an elegy for a relationship’s end, an intimate excavation, but also, these poems are a rhapsody, a rage. Skaja’s poetry is deft, nimble, willing to inhabit contradictions— What is this impulse in me to worship & crucify/anyone who leaves me… Each poem is exquisitely crafted, visceral, indelible. Brute will cut right through you, cut deep, but the writing is so assured, so necessary that you will welcome the wound.
72 Some poetry collections are difficult to form an opinion on not only because it feels like they push the boundary between the poet’s and the speaker’s life and experiences, but also because they focus on such universal themes that it’s difficult to engage with them in any way other than to filter the poetry through one’s own personal response and enjoyment of them. Brute is another new addition to this category and can probably best be summed up in a line from “Aubade with Boundaries”: “In an argument, it is better to be drunk than to be right” (p. 41). Skaja’s debut collection storms out of the gate with the first poem, “My History As”, with a cohesion and targeted attack that hits successfully with each successive line. However, this momentum isn’t carried consistently through the collection. In fact, the only other poem that captivated and moved me in a similar way was “No, I Do Not Want to Connect with You on LinkedIn”, the first poem in the final section of the collection. Skaja has a way with imagery – the emphasis on birds, flight, and eggs in the first half of Brute was especially memorable as Skaja reminds us that there truly is such a thing as “savage beauty”. But it became difficult to go beyond the individually intricate and clever lines and consider the poems individually in their entirety, to have any response other than to marvel at Skaja’s craft. Brute is therefore a rather strange beast, for Skaja really delivers a striking, often bittersweet, perspective on break-ups of complicated or unhealthy relationships. Yet the poems are often left licking their own wounds while leaving the reader to sit and look at them, wondering from which angle to approach them and if they should be approached at all. 72

Selected by Joy Harjo as the winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets

Emily Skaja's debut collection is a fiery, hypnotic book that confronts the dark questions and menacing silences around gender, sexuality, and violence. Brute arises, brave and furious, from the dissolution of a relationship, showing how such endings necessitate self-discovery and reinvention. The speaker of these poems is a sorceress, a bride, a warrior, a lover, both object and agent, ricocheting among ways of knowing and being known. Each incarnation squares itself up against ideas of feminine virtue and sin, strength and vulnerability, love and rage, as it closes in on a hard-won freedom.

Brute is absolutely sure of its capacity to insist not only on the truth of what it says but on the truth of its right to say it. What am I supposed to say: I'm free? the first poem asks. The rest of the poems emphatically discover new ways to answer. This is a timely winner of the Walt Whitman Award, and an introduction to an unforgettable voice. Brute: Poems

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