On Robin Richardson’s ‘Knife Throwing Through Self-Hypnosis’
Robin Richardson’s poetry collection maintains a balance of honesty, shock, and eloquence, without coming across as forced.
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Some poetry collections set out to address topics of emotional discomfort or societal downfalls. Others propose a more personal approach, taking the reader on an intimate journey that makes it possible to explore the line between the writer’s and the narrator’s voices. The most memorable and moving collections are able to combine all of the above in the space of one bound volume, making a deceptively short book feel like a microcosm. And that is precisely what Knife Throwing Through Self-Hypnosis is able to do. Richardson’s second collection sees the continuation of several elements from her first book — wit, elegance, and pointedness — which are partnered with a more experienced voice, pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a lady with a sharp tongue.
Women frequently find themselves to be the focal point of this collection, whether through direct mentions or the speaker’s own voice. If there’s one thing one will take away from these poems, it’s the terrifying beauty of what it means to be female. Several of the poems are perfect for revisiting for this very reason, each reread offering another way of reacting to the word while also offering an alternative definition of what it means to be a feisty lady. They are memorable both for their imagery as well as unusual approach to telling the truth. Particularly noteworthy was one of the poems about Thora, a selection from Richardson’s long poem-in-progress:
She’s antsy, licks
the paint of a Monet when no one’s looking.
No one ever is.
(“Thora at Thirteen,” p. 19).
It’s easy to lose all sense of time and location while reading these poems, as they do not restrict themselves to specifics. Instead they focus on reinventing the way in which one understands the most common of topics, issues such as our own mortality, which we don’t always stop to think about as it has become a familiar fact. Reading poems such as “Donor” changes this, putting these topics into perspective by forcing the reader to focus on them. The wording, once again, does wonders in this regard:
The coolers prepped
and stacked unlabeled, surgeons pacing,
pagers quiet while I keep these organs warm.
Richardson doesn’t apologize at any point for her outright and poetic way of presenting these topics, jumping from poems that feel suspiciously personal to ones that could easily have come off the reader’s own lips in a moment of drunken honesty. This is the kind of poetry that has become harder to come by, poetry that maintains a perfect balance of honesty, shock, and eloquence, all without coming across as forced. To other poets, this collection serves as a how-to guide, something to aspire to. The everyday reader will also find something to take away from it, primarily a reassurance that there is still a way of pairing humor with shock, a skill that is alive and thriving in the work of poets such as Richardson, who blesses us with lines that one can easily imagine being taught in university lectures of the future, where students will be enthralled by how close to home they hit, even if it’s something as outlandish as:
The scene where she slips koi into a patient’s colostomy bag
just to see if something can take more shit than she can
(“Mike Kooh’s Palliative Care Unit,” p. 22).