Fresh Confessions: On Leah Claire Kaminski’s Peninsular Scar

The chapbook Peninsular Scar, a short, intense collection containing several long poems, documents the imprints of a Florida upbringing. Kaminski, with the perspective that relocation allows, reverses the usual location of the body within landscape. Instead, she locates Florida landscapes and cultures within the body and within a dense, personal past, while acknowledging the slippery nature of memory, the past, and the scar itself. From the opening poem, “It rushes out and tightens in: as in”


a street that paces seamless in a pulse-blue sky:

street itching with new leaf and side-trees reared-back.

As in the slide-hit-slide of drops that flatten

on a car’s metal roof in a lowering

morning and what their hollows hold—what

slides in a curve whose bell starts and ends in

more-blooming rains from more cold-blooded trees.


The scar is a street is a scar in these lines, which employ words that often describe scars: seam/seamless, itching, hollows, curve. And it must be a disturbing scar: even the trees rear back. The Florida of these poems is not Disney and Daytona, but the vulnerable rural and agricultural lands, like the Princeton community whose agricultural identity was shattered by Hurricane Andrew and subsequent redevelopment. Take, for example,“Florida child speaks to hurricane seahorses”:


. . . spare my hammock for boxy

churches stamped-out parks give me it trickster, trickster. its crust of bark peeled

by me is white

and almost white, up for fire, but hook-linked shadow but merpeople here when I

want it I want it

hardwood and we’re all wet enough already give me back my tree


Like Sexton and Plath, Kaminski employs a set of private symbols that may accumulate meaning over time for the reader who follows her work. “Cypress,” for example, appears in many of the poems as a strong, durable building material that nevertheless falls to the same destruction as the rest of Florida. Unlike the confessional poets of the 20th century, however, Kaminski proceeds with a distinctively contemporary aesthetic. The confessions contained in the poems, even those contained in conversations with “my therapist,” avoid a coherent narrative by questioning a sense of self at the center of consciousness and employing syntactical disruption. Still, the poems do take the form of confessional monologue, as evidenced in“String Net”:


In my therapist’s office I say

I make everything about me.

I take your feelings,

put my flag on them

and kneel, cup my own moon’s

silky dust.

. . .


My therapist tells me I can’t differentiate

between myself and others; as a child it made me safe,

now it makes me loud and confused.


This questioning of the self as the center of consciousness informs the postmodern aesthetic in a variety of art forms. For example, John Brockway Schmor notes in his late twentieth-century book, Confessional Performance in Recent American Theatre, that postmodern confession on stage “becomes an act of survival rather than recovery, of fashioning a self immune to present reality rather than tracing a ‘true self’ in a coherent past.” Extending consideration of the postmodern confession into the post-postmodern era, Lisa Sewell in her introduction to American Poets of the 21stCenturyobserves that poets today subscribe to tremendously diverse aesthetics, while “deliberately and self-consciously engaging with the lyric tradition but also questioning that tradition through techniques of disruption, diversion, and resistance.”

Kaminski’s work in Peninsula Scar fits within this evolving, post-postmodernist or metamodernist aesthetic, one that attempts to contain both the naïve and the skeptical, both the subjective and the objective, both lyric work and Language work. In her ars poeticapiece, “Poetics with live oak nearly on fire,” Kaminski writes:


strike for a poem about how—actually how—his oak

was spared by fire; on


on whether

we were;

on the Forest Service and whether our parents’ laxity

with defensible space caused it;

on what it means to deserve


(poem about how I was gone, up

the coast; poem about how I wasn’t, poemabout complex PTSD)


. . .


live oak sprouting

small arms from its sides, lower than before,

and a lighter green, one you wanted to nibble on

and under this live oak, under its riverine

spread, the poems’ sulfur accumulates on me and when I am ready

to spit my seeds to swell and open

I will gather and build and my poems and I will have to have a talk


The word-play of the collection’s title suggests the poems here aim toward a penning of the insular, personal world, while simultaneously questioning the value of the insular world, whether insularity is in one’s head or in the landscape. In the collection’s final poem, “Poem for the building of a Walmart on rare pine rockland,” Kaminski gestures toward a reconciliation of the inner and outer, the personal and the landscape, by invoking the ideal of the universal:


South Florida is an ocean dried

to limestone so porous we feel like we’re floating

about to lift off topsoil inches deep

like under it is water; under it is water

I give to under the Walmart water

as we shop in its wide white aisles for kiddy pools

allergy medicine Armor All flip flops

under it the curving shapes

of water and where it finds a way

I give to our complacent feet

the splash of rising waters

I give to our unshaded heads

that the box too will someday sink, lines curve

waves’ parabolas unhook to let us in

and that there before altars

of goods soft and threshing

an aisle razored with hot salt teeth

will lead us to all of our places all of them

rippling sacred sacred sacred


In the twentieth century’s confessional traditions that Kaminski draws on, poems navigate the tensions between personal experience and political experience. This collection continues an examination of that tension with an awareness that in the twenty-first century, the familiar paths may be both razed and razored.



Michele Sharpe, a poet and essayist, is also a high school dropout, hepatitis C survivor, adoptee, and former trial attorney. Her essays appear in venues including Poets & Writers, O, The Rumpus, Guernica, Catapult, and The Washington Post.  Poems can be found in Poet Lore, North American Review, Stirring, and Baltimore Review.  She’s currently at work on her second memoir.