Swallowtail – review

Author: Brenna Twohy
Publication date: October 1, 2019
Genre: poetry
My rating: 4.5/5

There is no love poem here.

I know
because I looked for it.

from “It Has Been Too Long Since Anyone Has Seen Me Naked”

Surprise, surprise, another collection from Button Poetry that I absolutely adore. As many of you know, I’m a poetry geek, especially about spoken word poetry, and when it comes to spoken word, Button Poetry has some of the best talent out there. Frankly, if there’s a Button book on NetGalley, the odds are pretty high that I’m going to insist on reading it, and Swallowtail certainly did not disappoint. In her debut collection, Brenna Twohy examines topics including abusive relationships, trauma, suicide, femininity, love (or lack thereof), and healing, using metaphors ranging from the traditional (e.g. fruit) to the incredibly contemporary (e.g. Harry Potter). Her language is highly readable–seriously, I finished this entire collection in one sitting, on my lunch break–which makes me think that (a) these pieces would all be fantastic as spoken word/performance pieces, and (b) this collection will appeal to fans of contemporary poetry in general, as well as those who generally don’t like poetry because they find it “too stuffy” or “not relatable.”

As is often the case with collections, be they of short stories, poems, or some other third thing, there will be some weak links. Though the majority of her poems are incisive, with lyrical precision, especially those about her brother’s suicide, and some are brilliantly clever in their links between pop culture and deep personal reality, such as the discussion of trauma in “Draco Malfoy Looks Into the Mirror of Erised,” there are a few that veer too far into the realm of cliches and generalities. Most of these weaker ones are those that are specifically linked to a traumatic past relationship of hers, and this is understandable–grappling with a hard topic is sometimes easier in the abstract, but in this case, that meant gravitating toward less-than-original imagery or poems that seek to capture too many thoughts at once and end up less impactful.

That said, this was overall a fantastic chapbook, one I would like to reread sometime soon just to more fully absorb its contents. It is unafraid of confronting difficult subjects, and it does so with just the right mix of fragile delicacy and blunt intensity. If you are not big on non-classical poetry (and I know there are plenty of you out there), this is not likely to change your mind, but for those of you who do enjoy poetry of a more contemporary variety–especially if you are interested in the topics this collection deals with–I would definitely recommend giving this one a read. I can’t wait to read–and watch–what Twohy writes in the future.

I would like to conclude this review–as, is often the case with poetry, it is a tad brief–with some of my favorite quotes from the collection, because Twohy really does have some dope lines. Maybe these will further entice you to take a look at this one…

On being a woman:

I have practice in the art
of being cold on purpose.

how else
to keep the inside from spoiling?
to keep the rot from creeping in?

from “Today I Am Tired of Being a Woman”

peach pits are poisonous.
this is not a mistake.
girlhood is growing fruit
around cyanide.

from “The Peaches Shrivel on the Counter”

Sometimes I call this healing.
Sometimes I twist my hair up,

cross my legs, & watch them
learn the difference

between a smile
& the baring of teeth

from “Consider This Your Only Warning”

On anxiety and mental health:

There is a reason panic attacks
are not called panic fair fights.

from “In Which I Do Not Fear Harvey Dent”

To love me
Is to love a haunted house.
It’s fun to visit once a year,
but no one wants to live there.

from “Anxiety: A Ghost Story”

I have not almost-killed-myself
in two years and three months,


I look at old poems and think,

someone should do something
about this bleeding body.

from “I Am Not Clinically Crazy Anymore”

On love and relationships:

A cage of gentle
hands is still a cage,
and I know this now.

from “Swallowtail”

I lied
when I said it was easier to love someone from a distance.

It isn’t easier.
It is just smaller.

from “The Problem with First Dates, Or How to Really Really Really Not Get Laid”

TRIGGER/CONTENT WARNINGS: suicide, abuse, anxiety/panic attacks

Thank you to Button Poetry for providing me with a digital copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!


2 thoughts on “Swallowtail – review

  1. dinipandareads December 6, 2019 / 12:57 am

    Beautiful beautiful! On the rare occasion I go on Facebook I often get shown videos from Button Poetry and I love it! I love spoken word and I’ve discovered some pretty amazing poets/speakers on there, but I’ve actually never read any of their books! So many of these gave me chills of recognition! I’ll defo check it out πŸ™‚ Great review, Kathryn! 😍


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