Review by Camille Germain
Unruly is the definition of confessional poetry. Elysia Lucinda Smith has written a book that motivates you to take the rules and spit on them. It is a very encouraging collection of almost heartbreaking awareness. Smith takes her stories and shoves them at you without flinching. It is hard to come by writers willing to be open about sex and growth, but she does this seemingly without effort. Throughout the book there are puns that cut like sharp swords in the blink of an eye, making rereads vital. Smith is sly with her word choices and metaphors, sneaking them in where you least expect them, or turning them when you do expect them.
“Bitter Puppies” is short but hits hard and illustrates what a lot of society is like behind closed doors. The first two stanzas are made up of a conversation which leads into a rare moment of unexpected raw truth that Smith took with her.
"It was all weird in college. I mean,
I’d only asked if sex hurt."
This collection makes us hate Chad's penis, yet appreciate it as a pivotal turning point for the collection. The acts with Chad (and his penis) seem to be one of the major points where Smith looked back at her experiences with a bit of sadness. This is a story of self-reflection and coming of age, but it also is a depute of honesty where honesty often times gets hidden from everyone. Smith opens up. She delivers herself naked to the world.
This is a book that flips you upside down and makes you reflect on all your interactions and how even the most minute ones saturate you and your behavior. Our past is an important tool to utilize in our growth. And the growth we gain from these often times painful experiences is something clearly understood by Smith with her abundant usage of perspective like her mother’s, her friends, and even her own. Unruly teaches you to embrace feeling discomfort. It takes what you're familiar with and twists it into a new idea that allows you to feel.
As you get past the first part of the book there is an almost poignant shift in the collection from the younger self of the the author to the mother who never truly got to be who she wanted. The notes on the mother are subtle, yet heartbreaking.
"The window down and I’m laughing,
silver and chrome at you
who smiles then raises that question
and I can’t believe it, I think,
at first. You say: 'You know your father
and I haven’t had sex in seven years.'"
This collection is a smooth transition of stories tying together with underlying themes of both sexual exploration and abuse. For being a first book, you never would have guessed it. The story comes full circle and makes you feel as though you’ve journeyed with Smith.
Unruly is the truth about growing up as a female in Indiana. It becomes obvious in the collection that what people expect of Indiana girls is not what actually happens. Smith makes this very evident in her poem "Dear, 'Nice Indiana Girls:'" where she says:
"maybe you’ve been taking it
up the ass this whole time,
telling God it’s not his hole
to worry about, fudging
the rules, but not enough
to be afraid of consequence"
Throughout the book Smith depicts her own concept of femininity and growing into it. There are many aspects of Smith’s writing very reminiscent of both Sharon Olds and Marie Howe, both raw and honest writers that expose themselves to the world. In this book you realize there is no right answer and sometimes it takes some very dark turns in learning who you are. Unruly is a messy revelation that is important to read. Go buy a copy. Read it. Rebel with Smith.