Reviewed by Chance Austin-Brecher
In her poem, “White Loss of Forgetting,” Lizzie Harris writes, “I don’t want to be vague/awful things happened” but throughout this debut collection, Harris can’t help but be vague. It is almost a requirement of the context, something that she clearly doesn’t want, but what the situation demands. To be clear though, that’s not out of any sense of duty to shield the reader from confession or violence, but because Harris needs us to come to our own conclusions: “I need someone to look in the face of/the pond and see something/other than swans.” The violence is there for all of us to see, but we have to be willing to confront it.
The collection opens with “Mythology,” whose first line is an admission: “I want to say what happened/but am suspicious of stories.” This suspicion rings true throughout the rest of the collection. Harris spends a good deal of her book on the fringes of truth through memory. There is an empty space just between the details she does reveal that mirrors the spaces between words within the lines of her work. Nowhere is this clearer than in the aptly titled, “Erasure of Self-Help.” The source of the erasure is not specifically named, but presumably comes from a self-help book aimed at overcoming trauma. Harris deletes anything helpful, leaving only the bare truths of abuse and its effect on the psyche. Her presentation of violence is explicit in its absences and forces us, as witnesses, to fill in the blanks.
And yet the blanks are not hard to complete. Harris’s poetry, while occasionally skirting the bare details with deftly written imagery, is always decisively guiding its readers to the anguish beneath. There are passages that are explicit to the edge of their revelations and then expertly dropped before we have a chance to pull ourselves up from the edge. She lets moments and details linger in their own spaces before moving on. In the poem “Mother on the Highway” she writes:
——-but in ways I was asked ———– to graph mishaps
that brought her to my father
———-who mistook me for my mother
—————————and handled me
Harris is masterful in her ability to let moments like this sit in the spaces they deserve before pushing us in the next necessary direction. The poems in her debut collection meander through deeply intimate spaces and venture into these confessional moments that, while sparse enough in violent detail, still maintain a violence that is unrelenting in its emotional force. The refrain of Stop Wanting at times feels less like a demand from Harris and more like a personal imperative that we are given access to, allowing us to witness the cruelties, complexities, and convalescence all at once. Harris ends her collection saying, ”I could live one day, if or when/I’m ready to.” It is a brilliant finality that resonates through its sense of hope for a time when the cry to stop wanting is only an echo.