Book Review: Isthmus: Poems by Margaret King
isthmus (noun) isth·mus | \ ˈi-sməs-
1 : a narrow strip of land connecting two larger land areas
2 : a narrow anatomical part or passage connecting two larger structures or cavities
– Merriam Webster Dictionary
Discovering Internal and External Landscapes
Isthmus: Poems, by Margaret King, conjures images of an external Midwestern landscape and marries them to the internal landscapes contained within the human heart. The title of this book pushes right to the heart of her poems. Immediately I think of the isthmi contained within my own body. My fingertips home in on my sternum and when I close my eyes I can imagine the corpus callosum connecting the hemispheres of my brain. I imagine bodies of water and a narrow strip of land connecting them. The barrier thins until bodies of water are nearly kissing with only myself standing between them.
The connective tissue of music
“It was my mom
Playing the song
From our living room
Windows wide open
Because we never had central air
And “you cool my desire”
Probably whispered to her
Like a spring breath blown to her
Off the waves of the Great Lakes.”
–Big Bad Wolf, Margaret King, Isthmus: Poems
One of the first places I was published was a magazine connecting music and memories called Memoir Mixtapes. Writing for them helped me understand something I always knew about music. It didn’t just inspire me to dance or to sing, it connected me to my world. I think back to times of my youth or important moments in my life and there is usually music somehow connected to it. In Big Bad Wolf, King creates this incredible envelope of childhood memories nestled together with Bruce Springsteen’s song “I’m on Fire”. I can feel that Midwestern summer heat and the breeze off the lake. King, her mother and her friend stand on the other side of this weather, each connected through the isthmus of song in a different way.
An Ode to Seasons In Between
“Today is the season
Before snow comes
When we still walk around
In light jackets and everyday shoes.”
–Seasons of November, Margaret King, Isthmus: Poems
Autumn is my favourite time of year. While I’m at it, I could add Spring as a close second. I find the extremes of the other seasons hard to deal with, which is ironic considering I’ve lived in extremes most of my life. This poem reminds me of all the reasons I enjoy things more temperate. As autumn unfolds there are a myriad of seasons within seasons and I feel myself easing into it.
This easing always promises to bring me closer to one of the extremes I struggle with, but as brilliant leaves begin to die and the landscape thins to winter, I feel myself thinning internally. The best days are the ones where I can stand close to the edge without tumbling in and I get the sense that King understands that. Her fusion of the internal with the external is a gift.
A Landscape of Scars
“We think our bodies and minds
Should be whole, smooth land
When each scar
Is a miracle.”
–Survivorship, Margaret King, Isthmus: Poems
In 1998, I was giving birth to twins, when we almost lost the second baby. An emergency caesarean section was performed to save her life. I have a constant reminder of that day even when I’m not in her presence, with a vertical scar that traverses the length of my lower belly. It is hard to explain what it felt like to have a growing baby as part of my internal body and then to witness that same child on the outside of me. Childbirth is an experience, but it is also about survival and the transformation of the internal to the external.
Though I’ve always thought of her as the miracle, I considered the scar something unfortunate. Survivorship, turned my perspective around completely. The scar I carry is quite literally about surviving for my daughter.
This poem also makes me think about the other scars on my body. She references how the Grand Canyon was formed, again something I never considered as a scar on the earth, but in a way it is exactly that. Some scars on my body don’t reference miracles like my daughter. Some of them have been reminders of painful abuse. Now, I wonder if I can view them as a miracle of my survival and a mark of my resilience.
This is the power of King’s poetry for me, it is transformative.
Isthmus: Poems, by Margaret King, encourages us to re-examine our connections and how they influence our interactions with the world around us. Her poetry is packed with beautiful imagery and passages that echo long beyond the page. This book is available now through Amazon (US) and Amazon (UK). It is also currently available free as part of Kindle Unlimited.
About the Author
Margaret King is a Wisconsin author who enjoys penning poetry, short stories, and novellas. Her recent work has appeared in Nightingale & Sparrow, VampCat Magazine, Ghost City Press, Bombus Press, and Mojave He(art) Review. She is also the author of the poetry collection, Isthmus.
You can also connect with her via:
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