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“Why Does Love Fail?” — A Review of Katherine Young’s Woman Drinking Absinthe

Woman Drinking Absinthe, by Katherine Young. Alan Squire Publishing, 2021.

The poems in Katherine Young’s Woman Drinking Absinthe star women who give themselves up to men who imperil their lives. Throughout the collection , from the opening narrator who sacrifices security for the lover who will abuse her, to the end when a woman wonders, “How many men will die in me?”

Young pays tribute to her chosen cast of women with skilled musicality, all in service of asking: how and why does love fail?

Young probes the psychology of characters who appear in mythology and art history. We meet the naïve girl who willfully ignores evidence of Bluebeard’s crimes and Manet’s dispirited barmaid at the Folies-Bergère, among others. What these women share in common is how they abandon convention at their peril, knowing that convention also imperils their bodies, their spirits, and their art.

In this second collection, Young — whose earlier book Day of the Border Guards explored Russian history and literature — continues to employ what she’s learned from the great Russian writers she often translates. Like Marina Tsvetaeva, who makes a cameo appearance here, Young finds literary touchstones among sources as varied as German folk tales, Greek drama, and the Old Testament.

Whether tracing the elements of Euclidean geometry or the terrain of a Civil War battlefield in Tennessee, these poems ask the hard questions: Why does love fail? How can art come from pain?

What heals the soul?

Sandra de Helen is a poet, playwright, and novelist. Her one-act play Singer Clashes with Cougar was produced in New York in July, 2014 by{Your Name Here} A Queer Theatre Company. de Helen’s The Hounding and The Illustrious Client are available in paperback, eBook, and audiobook. These Shirley Combs/Dr. Mary Watson mysteries can be purchased in bookstores or online. Her poetry chapbook All This Remains to be Discovered is available at Another Read Through Bookstore in Portland, Oregon or online. de Helen is a long-time member of the Dramatists Guild.

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