by Wendy Wisner

“A world that did not include her enslavement.” Noteworthy Poetry

Rebecca Wolff, a Jewish-American poet and editor of Fence Magazine, is at the top of her game in her third book of poems, The King (W.W. Norton, $24.95), an engrossing glimpse into the mind of a new mother faced with postpartum depression. Wolff ’s poems are spare, often packed into short, jagged lines in which she authentically evokes the emotions of a mother alienated from her child and herself. In the aptly titled poem, “I live in the rectory,” Wolff writes of her distant feelings toward her child: “I can’t tell the difference / between myself (momentarily) / and that one over there.” This loss of identity permeates the book. Many of Wolff ’s lines startle with their darkness; others are laced with humor. In “The Letdown,” her powerful poem about weaning her baby, Wolff writes: “I wiped that smile / right off your face / and by withholding / the milk from my breast / made a man out of you.” Although Wolff doesn’t gloss over these harrowing experiences, the book is rife with sensual imagery and maternal love. In another section of “The Letdown” Wolff imagines nursing her child again. Her language softens to a calm lyricism: “I dreamed I nursed my baby / at my breast. In a rocker / on a steamship / by a porthole / the horizon.” Ultimately, the book is not just about her alienation and depression as a new mother, but also her redemption from these feelings: through these poems, Wolff gives voice to an experience that is all too common, and too often hidden behind closed doors.

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