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Book Review :: Poèmes deep/Gravitas by Amy Berkowitz

Review by Jami Macarty

“Poetry was a place to play / with language” for Amy Berkowitz: “There were no rules.” That is until she went to “grad school” and “learned” “that she had nothing to say” from professors in a creative writing program who “refused” to protect women students from the “serial abuser who’s been molesting / and harassing them for decades.” She had “been accepted to the program on the merit of a writing sample,” yet in response to what she was writing while a student there she was told her “poems lack gravitas.”

In a particularly adroit maneuver, Berkowitz claims the word used to undermine her artistic confidence. She titles each poem in a series of thirteen “Gravitas” followed by a numeral and a colon, e.g. “Gravitas Ten: The Size of the Problem.” In each poem, she describes an aspect of the gendered power struggles, violence, and abuse, and how sexism impacts expression within academia. Though the oppressive experiences at the academic institution Berkowitz attended are foregrounded, “the shit” she shares with readers “happens fucking everywhere” where there is “a guy like that” and “the lives of women…aren’t taken seriously.”

“It’s incredible how an institution
can make it impossible for students to have certain thoughts.
So much violence in that, so much power and control,
so sinister, so invisible.”

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