Kendra DeColo’s Poems Mechanize the Messy

Kendra DeColo’s “I Want to Burn the Frat House of America to the Ground” ends: “I mean my mother’s body was a house burning / and I’ve been burning ever since.” The poetry that makes up DeColo’s new collection I Am Not Trying to Hide My Hungers from the World is filled with raw, comedic, politically eclipsing language that leaves you choking on the brilliance of a rebirth.

These poems follow DeColo as she navigates the chaotic and tangled world of newly minted motherhood from reflecting on her experiences with her own mother, to pumping milk (like a boss), to Hilary Clinton’s superb suits, to being opened wide enough “to swallow my own body / then spit it back out onto the earth.” DeColo’s perspective on motherhood is refreshingly unashamed, candid, and downright defiant.

“Bitch, one day you’re going to grow wings / so stop screaming into the 22nd century. / Get nasty, mechanize the messy / Reinvent your pussy into a box of butterflies,” she writes in “Poem That Gives No Fucks,” and that is exactly what DeColo does throughout the piece. She compares the ‘glop glop’ of her breast milk dripping in a club bathroom to propaganda — “not real nourishment but a temporary fix — / not real justice but close enough to feel” (“Love Poem in the Style of Jordan’s Furniture”). She weaponizes the comforting and comforts the weaponized in a way that draws out a sigh from a world that’s held its breath for far too long. She puts it simply in “I Am Thinking About the Movie Con Air” as:

In the last scene Nicholas Cage grips the pink bunny
he bought from commissary,
ripped-up and dripping with fuel,
and hands it to his daughter anyway
and I will watch it over again
to see him stand there bruised and lit
with the one good thing he has;
my left breast emptied while the other
floods with music,
soothing the vowel-starred tongue.

DeColo’s collection looks inward, grappling with where she begins, ends, and lives in-between, but in no way does she shrink from the world. Within the lens of motherhood, DeColo goes through the growing pains of finding out definitively who she is, and doing it not only on purpose, but in spite of everyone who believes they have some right to her. In “Weaning, I Listen to Tyler, The Creator” she writes: “There is no simple way / to say I am ungovernable.”

She presents the abundant delights and the chasm-like pains of motherhood equally, holding them together as if they too are connected by some slippery, invisible cord — of this she says: “When I became a mother, / … more like I was doubled / and emptied, permanently / bent as if tending to a wound / or some unspeakable joy” (“Weaning, I Listen to Paganini’s Concerto No. 1”). In this, DeColo dives deep into what being a mother means to her, as well as womanhood in general — she breaks boundaries of how women’s pleasure is spoken of, both happiness and ecstasy, in a way that is incredibly natural, yet innovative and cathartic. She champions women’s bodily autonomy by simply writing of her own with a level of emotional honesty that does not ask, rather, it tells. In “Thinking About How I Never Say the Word Cunt” she writes: “I will stutter Cunt Cunt Cunt / On the bright carriage of my unraveling / The word a sip, infusion / Safety valve, a reckoning.”

I Am Not Trying to Hide My Hungers from the World is a triumph of verse, not unlike Kendra DeColo’s other works Thieves in the Afterlife (Saturnalia Books, 2014), and My Dinner with Ron Jeremy (Third Man Books, 2016), but this collection in particular has a specialty of language and mastery of tone that not only mechanizes the messy, it empowers and electrifies it.

I Am Not Trying to Hide My Hungers from the World
By Kendra DeColo
BOA Editions
Published April 20, 2021