Seasonal Affected by Rebecca Kokitus [review]

Books, Commentary

Rebecca Kokitus’s debut chapbook Seasonal Affected is an introspective, unnervingly intimate collection of poetry that reads like a southern gothic.

Structured around the passing of the seasons, the book takes readers on an odyssey through bleak but resilient landscapes where “there’s coal dust in the soul” and “the silver spoon is licked / only by the flame of a butane lighter.”

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Kokitus’s descriptions are sparse but vivid, rendering her disparate settings simultaneously lifeless and throbbing with life, each desolate in their own ways, from the “putrid farmland” and “trailer park strays” of Sussex County, DE to the artificial department store winter of ode to the shopping mall in december.

In poems like stained, the natural world mirrors trauma (“wild strawberry crushed / on calloused heels, I look / like I’ve been walking / through broken glass”) while providing moments of cleansing and catharsis (“each time I sweat through my / ratty wool blanket hair / I feel baptized”).

Kokitus’s observations have the duel pleasure of being both original and accurate. Take, for instance, the opening line of ode to winter (“winter is a corpse picked clean”); the leftover dead leaves “that refused to fall, hanging like bats” in as february; or nightrise’s assertion that “night doesn’t fall, it rises…reaches to sew the sun shut / like an eye postmortem.”

That last poem is one of the best in the collection, perhaps second only to self portrait as ghost, a world-weary autobiography (“born with miner’s black fingers, witch’s / green thumb / born from the swamps like Venus from the sea”) that juxtaposes childhood innocence with adult disenchantment.

The book benefits from repeated readings, as dense poems unfold like flowers and details that initially appear fantastical re-emerge with a grotesque realism (e.g. the “emerald river” in as february takes on a different meaning if you resist the urge to read it as a Wizard of Oz reference).

Many of the poems also have an interesting sense of motion. For instance, pulp (the most abstract work in here) is a manic whirlwind of words, while others beg to be consumed slowly. I especially admired the pendulum swing of unravelling, which mirrors the gentle oscillation of a cocoon unfurling…or perhaps, of a spider wrapping its prey.

There are a lot of macabre flourishes in Seasonal Affected (my favourite being the dead tree in poltergeist, situated within “a circle best reserved for black magic / yet littered with beer cans”). There’s no over-the-top horror movie camp, but a persistent sense of impermanence, decay, and loss, illustrated by decrepit properties, rotting plants, wasted bodies, and branches that look like bones.

Kokitus has an eye for the unsettling morbidities of everyday life. Jeremy Gaulke’s sparse illustrations add to the effect, evoking both the perennial weeds that return year after year, and human remains left to crumble to dust.

Purchase link: https://www.apeppublications.com/product/seasonal-affected-by-rebecca-kokitus/

Title: Seasonal Affected

Author: Rebecca Kokitus

Publisher: APEP Publications

Year: 2019

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