Gnashing Teeth Publishing

| words that get in your teeth

BOOK REVIEW: Refugee by Pamela Uschuk

Pamela Uschuk’s 2022 release, Refugee, stands at an angle in the line of poetry collections. Hers is a unique perspective which weaves potent emotions and experiences into the fabric of various landscapes. Through shifts in location, Uschuk crosses boundaries both literal and figurative with interjections of politics, loss and medical diagnoses. She writes,

This poem borders on anger knowing it will be
arrested for leaving water in the desert for families
fleeing with their shadows from the shadow puppet of poverty

– From “Bordering on Hysteria”

The shortcomings of the American government, and the president in particular, inspire the most outrage throughout the work and this seeps into uncomfortable spaces: an aspen nursery, next to pavement that the sky “weeps…a different shade of tears,” and along “the ignorant wall we have built.” Uschuk’s narratives wind through the sea and down forest paths with the glint of beauty held only in pure nature, yet she doesn’t stray from the constant reminder that “climate change is unpopular but real.” Many of these pieces hold stark messages of what is and will be lost to extinction: a true ecopoet.

In the section titled “Liquid Book of the Dead”, Uschuk delves into oncology through cancer treatment as the title is a euphemism for chemo hung and delivered to the speaker’s womb and abdomen. Even here, parallels to nature intercede with realizations about the situation. In “Green Flame”, a hummingbird’s sudden end becomes the speaker’s horror “at death’s velocity” and in “Finding a Moth Dead on the Windowsill” the loss of the speaker’s brother is paired with the death of a moth which speaks to the echoes of Vietnam her brother heard throughout his life.

The technical skill of each piece shines most clearly through Uschuk’s imagery. The sun rises and falls over varied horizons from rain-slick to finger laced with clouds. The poems hold a depth of scene rarely felt within the two dimensions of a page. Though the works are written as free verse, there are moments, such as in “Dharma”, where the poet uses word play to catch readers off guard: “Blue sky breathes through hummingbird’s throat, / who made the moat where red ants and Harris’s Hawk dream?” My favorite poem in the collection is “Shapeshifter” where fear is personified into its varied shades both with and without “bloody teeth” in seeming contradiction paired with the idea of cancer treatment’s dual nature.

In Refugee, Pamela Uschuk shows readers glimpses of humanity between blades of grass and holds a mirror to our nature in the curve of a raven’s eye. This is a book which flies upon soft feathers to terrifying heights.

Refugee is available from Red Hen Press.

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