By Kelly Forsythe
Minneapolis, Minnesota: Coffee House Press, 2018
61 pages, $16.95, Paperback
Reviewed By Cora Kangas
Hide under a desk, no it’s not for nuclear fallout, but maybe the desk can actually help you this time. Maybe, no one will be able to find you if you close your eyes. Hopefully the gun runs out of bullets faster than the shooter runs out of targets. Why is this happening? The world is never going to be as fair and beautiful as we all wish; the amount of violence that we allow to permeate through our society is making sure of it. Don’t tell me that you really believe that this can’t be happening. It is.
How do we deal with the aftermath of tragedy? And how does it create irreversible damage that can never truly be dealt with? If you are exposed to it in a way where “I didn’t even know / I was alive // until the last moment” the likelihood of being able to move on and become a whole person again is very small. In this, her debut collection, Kelly Forsythe makes the arguments that it is exactly that situation in which people are lost such that there is no coming back to the reality that makes life easy to live. This applies to the next day; “It felt strange to return to this space / the next day, or rather this concept: / a room meant as a home”; as well as years in the future.
Perennial hauntingly explores a side of the Columbine shooting that is not commonly seen: the view of a young girl who has had to live her life as a non-fatality, a survivor but still a victim. Throughout the collection, Forsythe delves into grief from and exposure to one of the most scarring forms of violence that someone can bear witness to. “By the end / of April, we were / examining our own / potential for violence. / It wasn’t that he was less / immaculate. Safety / had changed” a few lines from an early poem read. They show that in the wake of tragedy, it does not matter who is involved, the world shakes and everyone who hears about it is affected in some way. No one can seem to escape the violent nature that is more or less instilled in us since we were young: “we couldn’t touch / each other for fear / of each other’s unknowns.”
Violence is a common theme in American culture, popular culture especially, from movies to music, everyone has been exposed to it in one way or another. Many people, however, have not had to face it head on in the “real world” where the idea of violence isn’t just a form of entertainment but rather a nightmare come to life; one that you will have to come to terms with and handle in one way or another for the rest of your life. This form of entertainment value violence is also quickly rendered as a scapegoat “Just below is a photo of Andrew Golden & a headline: / Bloodlust video games put kids in the crosshairs.” Even though we know that there is some form of mental illness component to the mass shootings that have happened in past, recent or distant, it is just easier to blame something other than the person at fault. This idea is one that the collection tries to take on and challenge because it is a hindering notion that mental illness is not a problem that is very prevalent throughout the world.
Never has there been a time that it has been more terrifying to try to exist and become a fully capable adult. At least, that is the world according to Perennial, a book of poetry that takes on the Columbine High School shooting and the aftermath of growing up knowing that you should’ve been one of those who died that day. This collection of poetry explores just how much someone’s world can be shattered when they witness something of that magnitude. Not only are we haunted by what the work is about, but also by how it is articulated; a smattering of blood against a white backdrop that we choose to ignore and call normal.
Forsythe is not trying to argue that the world is not worth trying to save. Moreover, she is trying to convince her audience of just how much it needs that saving and presenting to her audience that they hold the power to take care of it or raze it.
This collection juxtaposes the world as it is fractured by tragedy and as it was in the days of innocence and beauty. The speaker is caught in the middle of these two separate worlds that collide with disastrous outcomes that are sure to leave a reader contemplating what it would take to end this form of abuse to young people everywhere and why it is still so common today. The collection pays its respects to all those who have been put through a similar situation by those who have not what kind of trauma needless and intense violence can cause.