It Takes Guts to be Tender: A Review of
Emily Corwin’s Tenderling

Stalking Horse Press
68 pages

If fantasy could ever haunt me, if fables and fairy tales could gouge a piece of my psyche and capture it by way of poem, Emily Corwin’s book tenderling does this for me. An MFA candidate at Indiana University Bloomington and former poetry editor for the Indiana Review, Corwin’s mythos resolves itself somewhere between Alice in Wonderland vs. the myth of Persephone vs. the Brothers’ Grimm vs. American Horror Story: Coven.

The voice in this collection is one of magical, linguistic properties. The language itself entranced me, especially the language in the nine page poem “pretty pretty princess vs. the underworld.” It held my attention from the beginning with its allusions and bright euphemisms. This collection is a very sexually tense work, one that yanks back power from any man/hero/villain and reclaims. One of my favorite examples of this comes from the poem “reverie:”

I ate the honeycomb whole and now there are bees

inside me. a leaf drips out of my underwear; I try to

look human today . . .

This poem celebrates the female body in conjunction with a partner’s. Many of her poems do this, and, if not speaking on liberation, speak also about overcoming fear and trauma. In some cases, the speaker becomes nearly monstrous, able to take on varying forms and sometimes the speaker can navigate into shudderable territory:

. . . I am preparing for the cold season, carving an

arrow, my own red tendon for bow string, rigid for the kill.

to survive means forget . . . – (from “silhouette”)

Among many surprising images in this collection come many that are terrifying. However, I believe they are not so much meant to shock as they are meant to surprise a reader into feeling uncomfortable. There were many poems that made me feel both in awe and a sense of discomfort. From reoccurring shadows and foliage, to roses and dolls’ blood; from flowing/drenched gowns and wolf spiders, to succubae and cobblers, the images collected are an expanse of a personal mythos that hooks the reader in and makes the speaker(s) all the more relatable.

A reader of this book would see each poem as a kind of fairy tale in itself. Each either haunting and linguistically pleasing, or sensual and filled with a yearning or longing for the words that will fulfill. Each poem has been artfully crafted image by image where every word holds its own magic and presence on the page. Corwin’s first collection is, in my opinion – as I love surprise and suspense and tender/terrifying language – a finely woven and carefully crafted grimoire of contemporary poems meant to both be gorgeous and to suspend, within each poem, a web from which danger is never out of the question.   

Staff Reviewer

Samuel J Fox is a bisexual poet and essayist living in small-town North Carolina. He appears in places such as Sooth Swarm Journal, Cahoodaloodaling, and Vagabond Cit Lit. He frequents graveyards, coffee shops, and Twitter (@samueljfox).    

April 21, 2018

LitStyle Book Review: Tenderling by Emily Corwin

It Takes Guts to be Tender: A Review of Emily Corwin’s Tenderling Stalking Horse Press 68 pages Amazon If fantasy could ever haunt me, if fables […]