The Unexpected, Evident, and Unusual: A Review of Linda Ann Strang’s Star Reverse

Every now and then, a poetry collection comes along that is so seamless, so carefully woven together, the collection itself seems to be a kind of poetic constellation gifted to readers from the cosmos. In the pages of Linda Ann Strang’s Star Reverse, readers not only find a collection in which the six sections act as their own intricate pattern. They also find that each individual poem is its own cosmic wonder, an entry point into a smaller constellation, where each word shines and gives light to the others. 

“A Brief Biography of the Opposite of Night” is a quietly passionate poem. What readers will first notice about the poem is its structure. Consisting of three long stanzas and ending with one concise couplet, the poem’s structure mimics light filling a dark room.  The first three stanzas are the initial “burst” of light after one turns the light switch to “on.” The final couplet is the moment after the eyes adjust and one realizes that the light’s perceived initial power is actually minimal and not uncomfortable. The poem’s initial line “If light were you” personifies light. It also establishes the “brightness” that flows throughout the poem. The poem then grows more and more passionate, blossoming into a slow-burning love letter as the speaker asks, “would you go through my body like a flare / when I throw up the doors of the cathedral.” The speaker’s questions develop a more intimate tone: “Would you play through the lace / of my dress, a barely perceptible glow on my breasts?” From here, the imagery transitions to the domestic. “If light had a wife, / would her name be Wavelength” opens the second stanza, in which the speaker wonders if light’s wife would “give him a rollercoaster kind of life / or would be all over the rainbow?” By the third stanza, light regresses from adulthood to childhood as the speaker poses “If light were a little girl.” The little girl wears “broken shoes,” and the speaker wonders if the little girl would “go alone between the stars.” Reinforcing the images are the allusions to Cassiopeia, who drops “golden daisies / into the chasms of the night?” The poem’s conclusion startles readers, not only because of its play on the old wish-upon-a-star trope, but because of the final line’s end word “might” that echoes the third stanza’s final line’s “night.” This rhyme becomes an echo, a  completion of the circle, drawing readers back into the preceding stanzas. 

“Troy in the Cancer Ward” is another standout poem in the collection. In it, cancer becomes a “Greek gift,” the “crone artifact.” It is the “blade taking time in your breast.” Rather than relying on medical or clinical imagery to display the disease’s ravages, the speaker blends more accessible imagery with that of the biological. For example, the speaker describes “adulterers flogged, our family sacked” and “demon drops, lemon drops, alveoli, / arteries garotted and bled.” Centering the poem is the unforgettable stanza “All the unholy mysteries / confessed to the oxygen mask.” This stanza acts as the poem’s turn, and the speaker alludes to such myths as Odysseus to convey the tumultuous, life-threatening journey unfolding throughout the poem. The remainder of the poem becomes a rally-cry against the inevitable—death. Short, staccato enjambments fuel the forward march which ends with the defiant demand, “Bring me my colt.” 

Less defiant, but just as insightful, is “Visions in a Drought.” This poem relies on couplets and a more personal tone. While it harbors direct statements that embrace the first-person “I,” it also embraces the strange, the surreal, and the philosophical. Its opening lines are mindbenders: “My ex-husband and my ex-father / are engaged to the rain gauge.” Musicality develops because of the play between “engaged” and “gauge.” However, the imagery and the confession transition into self-deprecation: “Today I have become a granadilla, / withered, my skin pitted and cracked.” The concept of the drought develops throughout the poem, and the philosophical transition occurs in the seventh stanza: “the sun’s carnal knowledge / in the corps of our bones.” Here, the drought becomes something inescapable, something inherent, a haunting and painful entity that will be passed down generationally. Some readers, however, might have a different take on the drought—that it is a metaphor for the inescapable emptiness permeating the lives of so many. 

Many of the poems throughout the collection act as a rebellious question of organized religion and the oppressive patriarchy. As the collection concludes, readers discover the poem “The Angel Gabriel Advises the Rebel Leader.” A playful twist on a variety of biblical themes, the poem opens with the direct address ”Capitan” and the bold statement “what your body needs, alas, is not you.”The speaker points out the Rebel Leader’s faults: “We see in your hand a tumbler of spirits.” The speaker then proceeds to give snippets of well-being advice to the Rebel Leader: “Come back channeling medical doctors— / or even better a yoga instructor, tempered.” The speaker’s other pieces of advice include “Only eat sushi. / Hold all that soy sauce and love avocados.” The poem’s mystery lies in the identity of the “Rebel Leader.” Readers may question “Is it God? Is it Satan?” Ultimately, what makes this poem humorous and philosophical, maybe even a little spiritually jarring, is that it’s up to readers to decide.

Star Reverse is proper motion in tangible form. Just as the constellations shift in the night sky, the poems in Star Reverse shift, transporting readers into the personal, the philosophical, the deeply intimate. Its poems adeptly balance the humorous with the serious, the religious with the irreverent, and it’s a collection worthy of not only one read, but many, many more. 

Nicole Yurcaba (Ukrainian: Нікола Юрцаба–Nikola Yurtsaba) is a Ukrainian (Hutsul/Lemko) American poet and essayist. Her poems and essays have appeared in The Atlanta Review, The Lindenwood Review, Whiskey Island, Raven Chronicles, West Trade Review, Appalachian Heritage, North of Oxford, and many other online and print journals. Nicole holds an MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University. Nicole teaches poetry workshops for Southern New Hampshire University and is a guest book reviewer for Sage Cigarettes, Tupelo Quarterly, Colorado Review, and The Southern Review of Books.