HannahGamble_BookReview

I was first attracted to Hannah Gamble’s writing when I stumbled upon her poem “Growing a Bear” whilst perusing the Poetry Foundation’s  website. The poem is about an aging man and his desire to grow a bear in his bathtub (do go read it!). I was instantly struck by the way the speaker’s bouts of nostalgia (“Your wife was in the shower // and you wanted to step inside / and soap her up like you did in college”) conflicted with the adult complexities of growing older and handling a childish imagination. Gamble created a uniquely poignant poem about the struggles of getting older, and I craved more. Gamble’s debut poetry collection, Your Invitation to a Modest Breakfast does not disappoint. Although I’m only in my early twenties, I often feel as though my youth is constantly slipping away, never to be regained. Gamble’s book truly resonates with human struggles, both life-altering and minuscule. Despite the inviting title and cheery design, the pages are full of hollow discontent, a struggle with growing older, and a loneliness so evident that the speaker sometimes ignores the reader completely and speaks directly to herself.

Gamble’s poems are written like a vivid dream where even the strange images appear as reality (“I walked out into the yard, / trying to vomit and drink milk simultaneously. I tried to sleep / while smoking a cigar” page 13). These pages are full of adolescent insecurities, and mature introspection. Yet despite the unsettling subject matter, there is a sense of comfort that comes from reading Gamble’s work. There is a comfort in the honest depiction of human loneliness, and at the familiar discontent so many of us carry throughout life.

We often read poetry when we want to learn more about ourselves, and Gamble’s book offers an honest (sometimes brutally honest) depiction of human insecurity. There is a constant sense of struggle with identity that many twenty-somethings can likely relate to. In “Leisure, Hannah, Does Not Agree With You (page 2),” Hannah (the speaker, in this case) remarks, “My body disgusted me, so I carved myself out of it,” and later, “I have enough regrets to crack all the plumbing. / I’m whole only in that I’ve built my person from every thought I’ve ever loved” (page 13). The speaker seems to feel inadequate and uncomfortable, and is continually critical of herself. As I read through these striking poems, I found myself relating more and more to the speakers in the poems, and finding comfort in this unrelenting portrait. Although I work hard to maintain a positive outlook, I appreciate that Gamble has documented an honest depiction, which begs me to wonder, if I took a long, hard look at myself, what would I find? The speakers in Gamble’s verses are relentlessly introspective, and I find myself following their lead. It seems that the form of Gamble’s work invites introspection, as many of the poems comment on poetic form.

 In “How Early To Wake,”

                        “…Even when I was not being

a poet, I was deciding how early to wake—

how early to begin the business of approving

and disapproving of the shapes

I’d let my person take.”

(page 31)

These lines suggest that poetry is an art form that urges self-reflection. Just as Gamble portrays the body as imperfect, so too are words. In “Biotic/ Abiotic,” she writes, “…I prefer poems, / but I understand that their human smell / is often troubling” (page 18), and in “Summer in the First Days,” “…words / aren’t a natural thing” ( page 41). We struggle to express our feelings with words, and it seems that poetry, although flawed, is often most effective in doing so.

Much like in “Growing a Bear,” Gamble’s poems often express a sense of unease at the thought of growing older. There are birthdays described in the book, but they are spent alone or abusing a piñata. While children are depicted as inadequate and unprepared for the world, adults are irritable and unhappy. In a poem about an elderly landlady, the young speaker explains, “It’s easy for her to love me as her past / but hard for me to love her as my future” (page 44). Gamble’s poems are often about looking back, desiring youth, even desiring the “…rumbling storm cloud / of the not-yet-born…” ( page 6). There is beauty in those things that are trapped; an insect in cheesecloth, a poem on the page.

Hannah Gamble’s collection is a refreshingly honest depiction of insecurity and loneliness. Perhaps a bit obsessively, I’ve read Your Invitation to a Modest Breakfast three times since December, and in my ever-so-modest opinion, I’d say it gets even better with age. Each time I reread it, I’m able to piece more fragments together of the sad, beautiful lives depicted in these pages. Don’t believe me? Buy a copy from Fence Books and let us know what you think!

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