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Book Review :: Divination with a Human Heart Attached by Emily Stoddard

 Divination with a Human Heart Attached by Emily Stoddard book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

The central figure of Emily Stoddard’s Divination with a Human Heart Attached is a daughter who is sometimes the poet interested in story and belief, and at others, she is Petronilla, the spiritual daughter of Peter. Peter, as it is told, trapped Petronilla either by paralyzing her or by locking her in a tower to prevent her from being beguiled by suitors taken with her beauty: “which part of my body most worried him, was it the eyes.” The main concerns of these poems are father-daughter relationships, gendered power structures, and venustraphobia: “has there ever been a body / like that / that hasn’t been dangerous.” The poems also foreground trials of faith and tests of will: “how optimistically / some people use the word faith.” The daughter writing the poems struggles with relationships to God, to family, and to her husband. As the poems confront deaths of family members and loss of marital innocence—“proportions of grief”—they seem to ask who/what is divine, “looking for a God / to attach to it.” While God seems not to appear, Magpie does, conjuring the 16th-century nursery rhyme “One for Sorrow,” which suggests the number of birds seen tells of good or bad fortune. Also, as it is told, Magpie stayed outside the ark during the Flood’s rising waters and did not offer Jesus comfort at the crucifixion. These acts of divination, independence, and defiance seem to be what inspires the daughter in these poems. Through her, the poems arrive at two declarations: “I want more passion, less resurrection” and “Grief is the thing / that says the world is real.” If an “elegy is trying to tell the future,” then reading Emily Stoddard’s “gold-star” debut may well foretell yours.

Divination with a Human Heart Attached by Emily Stoddard. Game Over Books, February 2023.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear. More at https://jamimacarty.com/