Abby Bland

Abby Bland’s The Odds Against a Starry Cosmos
From Perennial Press:
Review by April Pameticky

I’ve made this poet and our readers wait far too long for this chapbook review. My only excuse, or at least offering of an explanation, is that the passing of COVID time has distorted for me beyond the recognizable span or reasonable understanding, speeding and blending by while still conversely moving at a snail’s pace. It was originally on our docket for February, so I’m grateful for patience and grace.

I’ve returned to this small collection of poems repeatedly and have wondered, since I know that Abby Bland is a spoken word artist from the KC area, just what some of these poems sound like.
WiseBlood Booksellers hosted a Zoom poetry reading back in November 2020 where Bland can be heard reading excerpts from this collection:

Her self-deprecating humor, the wry awareness of the world, the pursuit of irony, all blend seamlessly in this adroit collection that connects trauma and grace to Job and the burning gas of our cracked knuckles. We are all “burning on the inside.”

The opening poem of this collection begins with an introduction: “My middle name… means ‘protector of sea’—or some shit—/which is some shit because I’m afraid of water.” Later, the book of Job is reduced down to a “bunch of men” sitting around “progressively angrier” because bad things happen to good people for no good logical reason. And don’t we all relate to that frustration that the universe seems to play dice with our lives?

In the poem “Pink,” the speaker wrestles with identity, and maybe not quite becoming what parents had wanted or hoped for: “Maybe it was Daddy’s bourbon or too many Elvis Records.” The stories in this collection, while deeply personal, still speak to common experience and frustration as we fully develop an identity separate from expectation and familial obligation. In another poem, it is clear the speaker wrestles with the pain of past trauma and loss, coupled with that family argument about just who is telling the story right, and who even gets to be the custodian of truth. If readers have ever argued with a loved one who painfully denied that something occurred, or that it didn’t happen the way you tell it, they’ll sense that familiar devastation in Bland’s lines: “Now there is a sycamore tree in your attic.”

To be a poet is to experience the world a little differently than others, to try to make sense of memory and event. “She tries to write a poem without blood or bones” strikes at the heart of wanting to create, but not always wanting the devastation that sometimes accompanies the process. This heartfelt awareness of the need for vulnerability makes for powerful poems throughout the collection.

My personal favorite line comes from the title poem, “The Odds Against a Starry Cosmos,” combining whimsy and awe with a sense of fate:

    0.0001 let to you, my love,
    here with your green sweater,
    unraveling slightly at the waist

Abby Bland’s chapbook, The Odds Against a Starry Cosmos, is available from Perennial Press.