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Raina Masters
“Cautionary Tales”
Maverick Duck Press – 2015

Rating – 5/5

Reviewed by Kendall A. Bell 

In the opening poem of Raina Masters’ first chapbook, she makes a statement of intent: I am not the wilted cut flower that hangs down on the window sill facing the back yard. Her suffering and struggles are intact throughout the chapbook, but she remains on her feet and refuses to give in, and that is the main takeaway from Cautionary Tales: resiliency. In “An Inventory”, she describes herself as the book you read over and over and the pretzel’s twist and your favorite flavor. Masters’ metaphors are strong and plentiful, referring to a failing relationship in “Nothing pink, nothing blue” as a broken twist tie relationship. In “This is your assignment” she demands authenticity from other poets, telling them I dare you to bleed pieces of yourself everywhere your feet land, to leave traces in libraries, in supermarkets, in public parks and police stations. The content of these poems weighs heavy, but Masters never looks for sympathy. She releases and then moves on. In “Everyone needs closure, even the dead”, a poem from the perspective of a woman who was raped, murdered and buried in the woods, she details the horrendous things done to her, says that her suffering was brief and gives her resting place: Turn right at the giant boulder and follow the grassy path with the rotted foot bridge. I’m sleeping under that oak tree a few feet from the water. Please take care of my dog. She won’t understand. It doesn’t mean that Masters shies away from giving shots back at those who have wronged her, like You were the first one to make me feel worthless, but not the last  in “Swing” and You are a calendar bleached of content. A yearbook of cautionary tales in “This classroom is empty”. The chapbook closes with the strongest kiss off of all with “I lie to myself through verse”, where she rattles off all the things a former lover did to her, but slams the door in his face with You are all divorced things in a leaking box with a crushed bow. Masters’ debut is a strong and emotional ride that will be tough to follow up, but it will be exciting to see where she goes next.