Poetry Book Review: The Year of the Femme

in poetry •  19 days ago

Year of the Femme
Cassie Donish

The Year of the Femme is exactly what I like about contemporary poetry. It’s just so damn pleasant to read. It starts out with a 20-page poem, “Portrait of a Woman, Mid-Fall”, which I absolutely loved. Donish’s language is skilful in these two stanzas:

“At the edge of a field a feeling of arrival awaits
Arrival is not a rival of departure
The two have to work together to make anything happen
All the clocks move together through time
In a flock of birds, some birds are a little behind
All the birds are held together by a principle of form” (p. 15)

In the above excerpt, the lack of punctuation adds to the poetic marvel; the garden pathing and gentle echoes are genius.

Throughout the collection, Donish takes us from one vivid image to another. I compare it to being in a maze of floral shrubs, that, even when you are not led directly to your destination, the journey is aromatic and enjoyable, and all I wanted to do is be lost in her poems forever. Read the beginning of “The Leaf Mask”

“she saw real birds
as wind-up birds with intricate
machinery, their whistles, the metal
architecture of their wings—she saw
them perched atop the hospital,
where exhausted women brought
catatonic lovers. She thought,
all buildings are wild, inviting people into
their mouths. One day she’ll chew
the crowd to dust, spit out bones, watches,
doves.” (p. 59)

Refreshing—the best word to describe this collection. The shorter poems were consistently engaging and vivid, and I was torn between wanting to read it all in one sitting and wanting to savour it, piece by piece, slowly melting on my tongue. The book ends in the titular poem, “The Year of the Femme”, which is lyrical in its dualistic interplay of form and text. In the first stanza, Donish writes:

“I grew up swimming in a slow-moving river, in words like sister and girls. I knew a waist was supposed to be soft, knew when it should be covered, when revealed.”

The final poem is rich with eroticism, with sensuality, with the perfect combination of tight prose-poetry and loose verse. I find it hard to objectively describe the poetry, because, it is so much more than vocabulary choice or skilful editing. No, we’re taken on a journey, a boat ride with your hands running across the river’s cool surface. Even in the structural dichotomy, Donish’s voice remains effortless and ever-present. “The Year of the Femme” is filled with queerness and the nostalgia of past experience which might be clearer now, but she goes through them as if it’s her first time, living them as they should have been lived to begin with. And that’s the most touching aspect of the whole collection. Donish embeds her voice in crystal clear images, which in their fragmentation become so complete.

And as the words take a life of their own, as the ink separates from the paper, we’re given a clearer identity while strengthening our connection with our surroundings; each breath becomes a lyrical exchange, to and fro. The essence of being elevates itself to an aesthetic way of being.

I received an Advanced Review Copy from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review

Sources and Links:

Book: The Year of the Femme
Book Cover: Goodreads
Reviewer: Jeremy Mifsud
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I really enjoyed this review and the examples you provided, @poetrybyjeremy. Really wonderful writing does take us on a journey. It’s so exciting to discover a fresh voice, and to read the work of poets and fiction writers with a keen eye for detail who help us to see things through a new lens.


There are so many wonderful voices, and it's nice that in the modern world, it's much easier to come across new voices rather than just mainstream and big names.