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Companion Animal

  • Image: Image
  • Book Type: Poetry
  • by: Magdalena Zurawski
  • Date Published: May 2015
  • ISBN-13: 978-1-933959-19-1
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 88pp
  • Price: $15.00
  • Review by: Dana Johnson
Magdalena Zurawski began writing her poetry collection Companion Animal in a state of doubt about her own abilities as a poet (to cite her final selection from the book, “Dear Reader,”). In 2009, when she was feeling particularly unsure about her abilities to write, a close friend encouraged her to read and write poetry daily and cultivate a loosely-supervised writing routine. The poems that stemmed from this exercise explore the realities of daily life—financial stress, relationships, lost loved ones, and of course, the companionship of a tiny dog—while questioning the relevancy of poetry and the act of writing itself.

Even the first selection “[Essay with Dead Fish]” begins introspectively, “I’m wondering if a writer isn’t a kind of failed magician. Or if it’s an erroneous gesture for a reader or a writer to apply the kind of thinking required in the space of the book to a space outside of the book.” From the very first line, the speaker (in this case, Zurawski herself) questions her role as a writer and the impact a fictional work can have on reality. These poems suggest a writer who is unsure of poetry’s purpose, yet feels inclined to write anyway.

In “February 13, 2012”—a poem constructed like a letter correspondence--the speaker reflects:
The problem is both that poetry seems to do nothing to make
things better in any material way, and yet we can’t stop ourselves
from writing it. We need it and don’t even know why. And even
if poetry is just a kind of astrology through which we begin to
dream that we can be like a we, it seems we’ve been dreaming a long
time, and, still, you and I wake up every morning alone with a
pencil in hand. 
This describes poetry as a type of therapy. Those who write are drawn to the act for inexplicable reasons, and yet writing gives the speaker a sense of fulfillment and wholeness, although fleeting. In “Dear Reader,” Zurawski admits, “Since the completion of my first book, a novel published in 2008, I was scared to write, but daily I felt displaced from myself because I wasn’t writing.” This struggle is made apparent throughout the collection. Many writers (or would-be writers) face a resistance between the desire to write meaningful, impactful poetry, and the courage to actually try to do so. This self-doubt can be stifling if not overcome.

Writers may ask themselves: Are words enough? Zurawski seems to ponder this question throughout her collection. After all, in the poignant elegy "[A Horizon is a Line You Can't Cross]," the speaker accepts: "What moves / my hand to the page can't make a world / a word." A poem can't bring a dear friend back to the flesh, nor can it recreate a world in any physical sense, yet we turn to poetry regardless. Zurawski's poems may, at times, question the relevancy of poetry, but they don't diminish its impact and importance. In “[” the speaker begins the poem in doubt:
Now that I’m old
it’s hard to get any

writing done. Every
day I’m busy

thinking how
poetry might

not mean
But what begins in doubt, ends in a simple reminder that poetry serves a crucial role, in that it has the potential to bring a little magic into our lives:
When I was young
I learned that poetry

was a little light
in all that darkness.
The speaker may struggle with the meaning and tangible importance of poetry, but cannot deny that it's an essential art form. 

Companion Animal is an introspective collection whose speakers reflect on the role and importance of writing poetry and its impact on our lives. The perils of daily life are illustrated here, and questions go unashamedly unanswered. Readers who favor poems that are short, punchy, and (occasionally) profane, or who themselves question the role of the written word, may find a companion in this book.

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Review Posted on March 01, 2016

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