(Noemi Press, January 2018)
Reviewed by Amanda Galvan Huynh
For the past week, I have carried Natalie Eilbert’s second collection of poetry with me both physically and emotionally. Indictus, Winner of the 2016 Noemi Press Poetry Award, is a book I could not read in one sitting. It still lingers in my mind as Eilbert calls for a reader’s full attention to the said and the unsaid; to reflect on its echoes of the present.
Majority of the poems in Indictus take the shape of free verse, narrative, prose, and sequences which allows for disjointed images bolster the faulty reliance on memory; the way memory can deceive, rearrange, and rewrite a new truth or one it would prefer to believe. Eilbert crafts dynamic poems that hold an unyielding truth to the aftermath of sexual assault, trauma and what it means to survive.
The collection’s opening poem “To Read Poems Is to Follow Another Line to the Afterlife. To Write Them Is to Wed Life with Afterlife.” sets an unapologetic and chaotic tone as the rest of the book revolves around the central idea of memory: the real, the unreal, the gaps, and the imagined. Eilbert’s first poem grounds the reader in the etymology of the collection’s title:
“INDICT, in its earliest use, exclusively meant to bring lawful charges against-but something marginalized groups know a lot about…language shifted to accommodate the reality of the court…It was left to the imagination of the survivor to alternate the course of events. At this same point, poetry meant a fable or tale in verse.
INDICTUS points to the unsaid.
In this way, to indict is to write the unsaid.”
from “To Read Poems Is to Follow Another Line to the Afterlife. To Write Them Is to Wed Life with Afterlife.”
It does not take a reader long to realize and admire Eilbert’s keen eye for language as the play of and on language frequents these pages. This decision also focuses on the power of language, an awareness of who gets access to it, and a reclamation of it to use as resistance, to use against oppressors. A quiet rage moves over and under the layers of these sharp and dense poems. Eilbert reclaims language by the attention given to words, their sounds, their order, and their mishearing:
“I thought and I thought and I thought, but could never property
express my shelves. I gendered myself until little holes trepanned outward.
I’m a bad denim vest. I’m a bad feminine land. I art my way
out of my pants and my importance is mistaken.”
from “Man Hole”
She creates a duality which asks a reader to reevaluate and rehear what is given; to distrust and trust at the same time. This choice in style parallels the reality of doubting one’s self post-trauma; holds the truth that trauma sits firmly in the present and can haunt an individual. Hoes does one write about the reverberations of their hurt? Begin to heal? Eilbert leaves these questions open, understands that every survivor’s story and pain is unique.
While beautifully written this collection calls for an in-depth reading as the surreal images at times can be disorienting and may require rereading. However, this necessary book is worth the extra time and meditation.
To write that Eilbert’s collection is brave would be a disservice as these poems are a strength for all bodies surviving in our current and turbulent times. Eilbert’s words give us space to reflect on our pain, others’ pain, the ones who come forward and the ones who cannot. With the rise of sexual assault accusations being taken seriously a new (and long past due) era unfolds for the future of women and femmes. One crucial voice rising in solidarity takes the form of this heroic book.