Literature Reviews

Review: Semicolon ; by McKayla Debonis

semicolon ;

Rating: ★★★★★

Title: Semicolon ;

Author: McKayla Debonis

Genre: Poetry

Publication, 2017, Amazon Createspace

Content Warnings:  “anxiety, descriptions of panic attacks, sexual abuse/harassment, depression, suicidal tendencies, self-harm, body dysmorphia.” (Source: Author)

Summary: “A Collection of poetry that uncovers the raw and heavy emotions that come with anxiety, trauma, and other experiences.

Part two takes you into the healing, bringing the light, the meditation, the beauty in finding oneself after all the chaos has passed.

& finally, you’re left wanting to start your next chapter; the one that comes after the semicolon.” (Source: Goodreads)

My thoughts

I had the honour of being a beta reader for McKayla’s latest collection, and let me tell you, folks, YOU ARE IN FOR A RIDE. Semicolon is a beautiful poetry collection. Truly. However, do not be mistaken when I say “beautiful”, I do not mean the kind that is pleasing to the eye, I mean the kind that stares right into your soul and wakes you up.

The poetry collection is divided into two sections, or rather two separate “sentences” which are connected by a semicolon. The first section/sentence concerns a painful, numb existence. McKayla’s descriptions are tangible to the point you feel as if you are a spectator. There is haunting imagery throughout the first section, so please make sure to read the content warnings above. There are some poems which just blew me away upon first reading, I just stared at the page in awe. McKayla’s writing comes from a place of truth and that is evident.

i folded each edge seamlessly

carefully crafting my points

hiding myself away from the world

– in perfect creases, p.32

I connected with the majority of McKayla’s poetry. The collection ebbs and flows, just like a sentence. The collection transitions into a much brighter place where you feel yourself being repaired as each poem goes on. You are enchanted and uplifted into this new existence, but also reminded to remember that healing is not linear, that we must always remember to continue after a “semicolon”.

i’m falling back in love with the big heart

inside my chest

– loving myself all over again as if it’s brand new, p.55

This particular line in the second section struck a chord with me. I love this notion of falling in love with yourself and your heart, it is not something society teaches us explicitly. Having read the previous dark section of the book, this particular line felt like the “heart” of the collection. Pun intended!

This collection was so beautiful to read that I had a good cry after it, and some of McKayla’s words have stayed with me long after reading.

Why did I read it?

I loved McKayla’s first collection, Bones in the Garden, so I knew I had to be one of the first to read the latest poetry book!

Do I recommend this?

If you love cathartic, deep poetry, then this is for you. I loved reading this!

Does the author have other works?

YES! McKayla has written another poetry collection which was published earlier this year, titled Bones in the Garden. I reviewed it here.

Until next time,

Melissa (1)

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Literature Reviews

Review: You Are The Map by Michelle Tudor

you are the map (2)

Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Title: You Are The Map

Poet: Michelle Tudor

Genre: Poetry

Where to buy: Amazon

Summary: In the winter of a love story, feelings become your guide. But as worlds shift and seasons change, memories last forever. Twenty-five poems follow this journey; a map to the heart of relationships. Through lust and love to despair and descent. (Source: Goodreads)

Content Warnings: themes of loneliness, loss, intimacy, depression.

My thoughts

I originally gave this collection four stars, but after returning to review it, I couldn’t believe the difference in how I felt – I think the variable was my mood. When I first read Tudor’s collection, I was settling down for bed and wanted to unwind, so I decided to read something short and sweet. Then, upon my second reading today, I was interested in why I gave this collection four stars as I don’t tend to give poetry collections four stars that often (I think anyway), so I reread and was moved deeply by this collection. I literally felt my heart ache with the speaker who was experiencing a breakdown of a passionate relationship. Tudor’s control of language was poetically devastating.

Here are some of my favourite lines from Tudor’s collection:

the rise and fall of your chest

like the waxing and waning of the


– Tsuki

Moon metaphors are among my favourite, but this particular metaphor is stunning as it emphasises the intimacy of the relationship as well as its heightened/supernatural nature.

You walk like the sun bleeds only for you

(and I know that it does)

– Youth

Youth is one of Tudor’s most powerful poems in this collection. This line stood out to me due to the reply in the following parenthesis, it overwhelmed me. For me, the line articulates the idea of someone having such a strong presence that it is destructive, and this can be taken both literally and metaphorically. Although the line begins in a critical tone with the speaker commenting on the addressee’s arrogance, the speaker contradicts their criticism, which suggests the intensity of their feelings towards the addressee.

Why did I read it?

Michelle Tudor’s poetry collection was originally published by Platypus Press and I have enjoyed some of their publications, such as Prelude to Light by Venetta Octavia and Wishing for Birds by Elizabeth Hewer (yet to review).

Does the poet have other works?

Michelle Tudor has written a short story collection titled Miyoko & Other Stories, a chapbook titled The Quieting, and contributed to a short story anthology titled Tell Me a Tale. 


Michelle Tudor is a powerful poet and I look forward to reading more of their work. If you enjoy fervid, gripping love poetry, then this is for you.

– Melissa Jennings

What makes love poetry powerful for you?

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Literature Reviews

Review: on the border by Darshana Suresh

on the border

Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Title: on the border

Poet: Darshana Suresh

Genre: Poetry

Where to buy: Payhip (it’s actually free!)

Summary: A collection of poetry about borderline personality disorder.

Content Warnings: mental illness, self-harm, suicide, suicidal ideations.

My thoughts

on the border is an incredibly honest collection of poetry from beginning to end. Although I do not have BPD, I identified with each poem and recognised myself within Suresh’s metaphors and precise thoughts; as someone who suffers from depression, anxiety, and mood instability, I felt so understood. I strongly recommend this collection to anyone who has mental illnesses and struggles with them every day, as this chapbook discusses the feelings of a person who endures mental illness every single damn day.

There are only ten poems in Suresh’s chapbook, but it has been one of the most impactful reads this year, for me personally. Poem #6 was a particular favourite as Suresh alludes to one of my favourite poems of all-time, ‘The Hollow Men’ by T. S. Eliot:

like eliot said,

this is the way the world ends

quietly, quietly, like leaves

turning away from the sun,

six, p.10

This particular poem was so immersive and saddening; a bittersweet thought of leaving the world quietly without anyone really noticing.

Why did I read it?

It was free and recommended on Tumblr.

Does the poet have other works?

Darshana Suresh has written other poetry collections, Sugarplum, Wolf Blood, and Fleur.


Darshana Suresh’s words moved me to tears. I needed to read her words. If you enjoy honest, distinct poetry, then this is for you.

– Melissa Jennings

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Literature Reviews

Review: Survive Like the Water by Lydia Havens

survive like the water

Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Title: Survive Like the Water

Poet: Lydia Havens

Genre: Poetry

Where to buy: Rising Phoenix Press

Summary: In her debut poetry collection, Lydia Havens explores how mental illness, grief, and abuse have correlated in her own life, and in the patterns, she observes in the rest of the world. Divided into four thematic parts, Survive Like the Water describes trauma using everyday occurrences and objects, and asks necessary questions about healing as a lifelong process. (Source: Goodreads)

Content Warnings: mental illnesses, intrusive thoughts, traumatic experiences, low self-esteem, death.

My thoughts

Oh my stars. I love this collection with all of my heart. As someone who suffers from depression and anxiety, I felt understood. As someone who isn’t always able to articulate their thoughts, I felt myself being expressed by someone else. How ridiculous is that? It’s a good kind of ridiculous. Reading Survive like The Water was incredibly nourishing.

What does it say about me, and the fact

that there are still mornings,

ten months later, where I wake up

and mistake the sound of my own breathing

for ambulance sirens?

– During the Worst of it, p.21

The way Havens’ articulates so much in little images and ideas is simply breathtaking. Literally, I never felt more understood by a poet or a person for that matter. In this particular poem, Havens discusses how health professionals often treat people with mental illnesses, even our own families, and the speaker is horrified more with them than their own mental health.

Why did I read it?

The title intrigued me. Anything linked to water gets me interested.

Does the poet have other works?

Lydia Havens has written GIRLS INVENT GODS, Warrior Worrier, and Evolution & Revolution.


Havens’ collection is a favourite of mine. If you like dark, emotive poetry, then this is for you.

– Melissa Jennings

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Literature Reviews

Review: Forgive Me My Salt by Brenna Twohy

forgive me my salt

Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Title: Forgive Me My Salt

Poet: Brenna Twohy

Genre: Poetry

Where to buy: Amazon

Summary: “Brenna Twohy’s debut collection reads like a letter to all that haunts her– letting them know that despite her wounds, she’s still alive.” (Source: Goodreads)

Content Warnings: low self-esteem, alcohol, use of f*ck, knife, trauma, threat, vivid description of fish being pierced by hook, shattered glass, noose, bleeding, rotting, description of drowning, animal death, death, nightmare, funeral, sex, mental illness, panic attacks, mention of rape, anxiety, erotic Harry Potter fanfiction, use of the word wh*re.

My thoughts

Brenna Twohy’s debut collection can only be described in one word: intense. From the first poem, I connected to Twohy’s words. As Twohy is known for her spoken word performances, you can tell by reading her poetry that the words have a life of their own. She has this succinct way of expressing herself in each poem, her dark metaphors are just what the doctor ordered.

On nights

when my body feels

more cage than shelter

and my hands ache from the rebuilding,

– Consider This Your Only Warning

Twohy’s opening poem has some beautifully dark imagery. The second and third line of the poem completely seized me. It perfectly expresses feeling trapped in your own body, your own home.

Do you really think Lazarus wasn’t angry

when they opened up his tomb?


Do you really think you can come back

without bringing hell with you?

– I Know It’s a Little Late

These are the final lines of Twohy’s poem, and I again was seized with emotion. How is it possible for this poet to express so much in so little? The ambiguity of the last line is overwhelming!

Why did I read it?

The title was intriguing and somewhat amusing, so I was curious.

Does the poet have other works?

Brenna Twohy will be releasing a second poetry collection titled Zig-Zag Girl.


I am speechless with this poetry collection. It has completely purged me. If you love dark, visceral poetry, then this is for you.

– Melissa Jennings

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Literature Reviews

Review: Prelude to Light by Venetta Octavia

prelude to light

Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Title: Prelude to Light

Poet: Venetta Octavia

Genre: Poetry

Where to buy: Platypus Press (limited print run)

Summary: “In her debut collection, Venetta Octavia ventures inwards on a personal journey to discover the light within. She writes of how love and loss are often the same thing—a reflection that defines who we are—but also, how the stories we breathe life into are only the creations of our own mind.” (Source: Goodreads)

Content Warnings: violence, throwing up, taxidermy, blood, lashing, death, drowning, vivid description of being eaten alive, implied suicide, intrusive thoughts, vivid description of a deer being shot at, mention of switchblade, war, mention of sword, use of blade, nightmares, use of ableist phrase cr*zy, knife, explicit request to draw blood and to choke, broken glass, vivid description of using a knife.

My thoughts

Venetta Octavia’s collection is undoubtedly epic. As I was reading it, I felt like the stars were aligning; her words are equally ethereal and brutal. The title of the collection suits the poetry within. I found myself wondering: what is the prelude to light? Naturally, I thought of the opening of Genesis, a book from the Bible, where God said “let there be light” – so the answer is darkness. But, for some reason, I was expecting a “lighter” tone as the title sounds lyrical. Nonetheless, I am stunned by this poetry collection.

I will share a few lines from the collection which moved me:

/ how is there sleep without death / how do I carry this heart without breaking?

– Fox & Mama

This particular poem is broken up into numbered sections as the fox counts to ten. I am not entirely sure about the meaning of this section, but I thought these lines were profound. I interpreted as the baby fox asking his mama these questions or perhaps to themselves.

Womanhood is like childhood

with teeth-

I am still learning,

– Maybe the Apples Grew, but It Was so Long Ago I Only Remember Seed, ii

I was not sure about this line. I think it could be applied to any person of any gender.

Grief is a wild animal howling

within you.

– Lion Hearted

Animalism is a continuous theme in Octavia’s book and it appears in various forms. Perhaps Octavia is drawing a correlation between animality and darkness. 

what types of killing are there? so many, but the first and most important one: existence.

– Fables

THIS ONE GOT ME. This is definitely the core meaning of Octavia’s collection.

Why did I read it?

I try to read lesser-known poets as much as I can. Octavia’s collection appeared to me on Kindle Unlimited.

Does the poet have other works?

Venetta Octavia has written other poetry collections such as The Alchemy of Smallness, What We Left Behind, sky-doctrine, and much more.


This is the kind of poetry that I love to read. Prelude to Light is intense, menacing, and visceral to the point of gasping. If you enjoy those sort of vibes, then this is for you.

– Melissa Jennings

What kind of poetry do you like reading?

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Literature Reviews

Review: [Redacted] by Trista Mateer


Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Title: [redacted]

Poet: Trista Mateer

Genre: Poetry

Where to buy: Amazon

Summary: “This comes in the form of handwritten notes and poetry fragments, iPhone note poetry, tweets, Craigslist ads, and more. This mix of poetry and prose spans a single month and covers topics such as heartbreak, gender, sexuality, and forgiveness.” (Source: Goodreads)

Content Warnings: use of the word f*ck and variations of it, trauma, mention of sexual assault, mention of rape, bullets, blood, implied sexual messages, use of the word sh*t, knife, injury, choking, threat, violence, mental illness, use of the word a**hole, mention of masturbation, gun. use of the word c*m, mention of “violence against women”.

My thoughts

[redacted] is one of the most masterful poetry collection I have ever read. The mixture of form made the poetry satisfying and exhilarating to read. Moreover, some of the titles of Mateer’s poems were amazingly complicated, they seemed like poems themselves. [redacted] is simply a masterpiece and can only be described by a quote by Carrie Fisher: “take your broken heart and make it into art.”

he is more dream than boy, so

I’m not sleeping very well.

This is one of Mateer’s shortest poems in [redacted], nonetheless, it had the most impact, for me personally. The poem expresses this notion of presence, the fact that this “boy” is taking up their thoughts. Moreover, the poem could also illustrate that the boy is a figment of their imagination, perhaps a person from their past, and the speaker is tormented by the memory of them. ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES.

A recurring theme in [redacted] is metapoetry, where Mateer discusses “the poet” through poetry.

The poet emotionally tortures herself for art. The poet emotionally tortures other people for art.

– A Few of My Glaring Character Flaws Laid Out in Third Person Just for Kicks

I adore this writing style. The entire poem articulates the struggles of a poet, and how poets use poetry as a means of catharsis, and ironically, without really purging. As a poet, I found myself nodding furiously at this poem.

Why did I read it?

I love Trista Mateer’s writing style. She became one of my favourite poets after reading her chapbook Small Ghost.

Does the poet have other works?

Trista Mateer has written other poetry collections, Honeybee, The Dogs I Have Kissed, and Instead of Writing Our Breakup Poem, that I cannot WAIT to read.


I highly recommend [redacted] as it is a poetry collection which is experimental with form. Its topics are also various and poignant. If you enjoy emotive, abstract poetry, then this is for you.

– Melissa Jennings

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