Review: Marble Orchard by Emily Corwin

University of Akron Press, May 2023

68 pages

Emily Corwin’s third full-length book of poetry, Marble Orchard, subverts expectations of how we talk about anxiety and depression. This graveyard is divided into four sections that tackle mental health issues and physical ailments: “delicate as organ,” “my black sleigh,” “the wicked accident,” and “a field walks through me.” Each of these corresponds to a different framing style: a formal presentation of “lunacy,” ekphrasis of film, a collage of voices overheard, and the ekphrasis of paintings.


Though ekphrasis, the use of art as a framing device, is often used as a tool of distance, in Corwin’s latest collection, pieces feel personal and universal. One notable piece, “Kat Harvey,” named after the protagonist of the 1995 Casper movie, is a portrait of the namesake character:


to go. Dusty star anise, eyebright, the rosarian says,

good morning. And you, what were you like as a living thing?


I’d like to make contact. Can you hurt me? Can I hurt you?

Slither with me to the Lazarus machine, primordial muck.


I’d like to see you not see-through. Can I keep you? Earthy as a

cabbage rose—my woody perennial, my mortal slow dancer.


Corwin uses “Kat Harvey” and Casper to consider the separation of the mind and the body, and resurrection after a physical and even metaphysical death. The poem uses the movie to craft a painting of herbal medicines such as “dusty star anise,” that suggest healing properties. Death is only addressed with a rhetorical question: “What were you like as a living thing?” The biblical reference to Lazarus, the name of the machine designed to bring Casper back to life, arises again as “a/ cabbage rose—my woody perennial.” Here the reader may note “perennial” is a type of plant that comes back to life every spring and could signify the cyclical nature of mental health struggles.


The opening section of the collection, “delicate as organ,” begins with a bang and contains some of the most compelling pieces in the collection. Its first poem, “Lunatic as Abecedarian,” sets us up thematically for the rest of the book. The speaker of these pieces, “lived against it – a/ brutal music; I lived in it in/ clinics, in dresses disposable.” This section examines “lunacy” and “lunatic” by employing a myriad of forms that challenge us to reframe our relationship with these words.


Corwin is at her best when she deconstructs and rebuilds the world around her. In one of her “Lunatic as Erasure” pieces, readers see an “erasure of Fluoxetine medication guide” that takes medical packaging to create a portrait of what it is like being on an antidepressant.


“there may be            change in mood, behavior,

actions, thoughts, or feelings, especially severe.

acting on dangerous impulses”


Corwin captures the possible contradiction of antidepressants, stabilizing mental health—while potentially delivering terrible side effects. She notes, “if you take too much, call poison control,” highlights the fiction between pill as “medicine” and hazard.


The “wicked accident”, which consists of a multi-page poem constructed out of conversations overheard in public spaces, was another high point in the collection. Whether Corwin’s intention or not, this piece evoked the motif of “voices in your head” that is often associated with lunatics, a thread established at the beginning of the book. “I wasn’t there when it happened. You see where the crack started.” Corwin’s disembodied voice chimes two-thirds of the way through the piece. This brilliant landscape skips to a Betty White reference and the meme of the actress being older than sliced bread: “That was the old Wonder Bread Factory. We used to drive the turnpike/ to visit Betty.” Corwin subverts expectations, offering us a voice that is reflective, witty, sarcastic, and left me wanting to “cross my fingers,/ I mean, cross my heart.”


Corwin’s Marble Orchard delicately balances themes of mental illness with art and found poetry. Though its first section ran slightly long in its dissection of lunacy, Corwin’s meditation on mental illness offers a strong collection that will likely resonate with many readers.



An Array of Possibilities

A Brief History of Fruit by Kimberly Quiogue Andrews

University of Akron Press, 2020 


A Brief History of Fruit


My copy of Kimberly Quiogue Andrews’ A Brief History of Fruit soon ran out of page corners to dog-ear. After reading each poem, I had to read it again; I didn’t want to misread any lines or miss any new words. And when I finished this collection, I returned to all the words I had circled, delighted not only by the poems in what has become one of my favorite collections of the year, but by how much they had taught me. A small sampling of the words this collection added to my vocabulary:










As I searched for my circled words, I found myself rereading each poem, and then the entire collection, in its entirety. It is a collection that rewards re-reading. Andrews signals her attention to the meanings of words—and asks for readers’ attention to the same—in poems such as “n: Shield, or Shell Covering”:


Swaddling provides a newborn with a sense of the womb’s safety.

I fold countries around myself, false familiarity, some serene carapace.


That “carapace” is the noun from the poem’s title: an object with a protective function, a kind of casing. But Andrews finds the tension between a swaddled baby and a suffocated self in a suffocating country in a way that feels both heartbreaking and necessary. The poem renders this tension using a series of long couplets drawn across the page, with the second line of each couplet pairing carapace with a rhyming, rhythmic, hypnotic sequence of modifiers: crystalline, serene, unseen.


In “The Collapse,” Andrews combines her playfulness about the meanings of words—“Ravine (n): a place where it is difficult to build condominiums”—with a formal inventiveness that uses the page as a way to think critically about what white space means in the poem and in the world. Through these formal choices, Andrews makes the connections between whiteness, capitalism, and ecological disaster both evident and non-negotiable. The poem opens with an epigraph about Manila’s infamous mountain of garbage, the collapse of which killed hundreds, maybe thousands of people in the summer of 2000. Andrews, though—whose mother was born in the Philippines—follows the epigraph with a passage that suggests an impatience with the need for storytelling as a rhetorical device:


Is it alright if I just go ahead and say

that the moral of this story

will have something to do with the scourge of capitalism? Will you keep reading?


This poem is frenetic and challenging, cataloging Manila’s financial growth and environmental ruin with an anger that at times transforms into reverence: “all hail the need for condominiums / all hail Manila’s 10,000 tonnes per day.” These images, stacked one on top of another, threaten their own form of collapse, mirroring the compounding pressures of capital and climate change.


If there is a feeling of helplessness that comes from the magnitude of the current disaster facing us, what Andrews does so well across the collection is face these impossible catastrophes. She arrives to the page with new ways to communicate loss, absence, and grief. The language with which we understand the climate change that may destroy us is also the language we use to understand the elements that give us life. Andrews converges these lexical groups in “Pastoral,” where words such as “environment” and “field” and “America” can and do hold a number of meanings:


By field, I mean both the expanse across which

[] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] []

and the sum of all possible relations between a person

and the objects in their environment


The punctuation of a double bracket [] translates to an array in JavaScript, and I think of array here as a kind of absence but also as the formation of possibilities, answers, and meanings—a box to be filled. The poem does not concern itself with sense so much as it does with sound, which props open the door to the poem. The arrays provide the fill-in-the-blank-ness necessary to push the reader toward a range of meanings:


By America, I mean the sighing sense of moving from body to

[] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] []


A Brief History of Fruit is inventive, textured, and deeply interesting. One of the many powers of this collection is the way it navigates possibility. Andrews writes into questions such as, How do we name ourselves? How do decide who we are? How does one name and navigate the world? These poems are fervent explorations of the capacity for language to name what can’t be named and to help us understand tensions that, as argued by Diane Seuss—who selected the collection as winner of the Akron Poetry Prize—do not “resolve; [because] to resolve would equal self-abandonment.” And to pretend to resolve the questions at the heart of this collection—for one, “What does it mean to live in a country?”—would be far less interesting than what Seuss rightfully says that Andrews does so well: to “inventory a parallel history.”