Literature Reviews

Review: It Starts Like This by Shelby Leigh

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Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Title: It Starts Like This

Poet: Shelby Leigh

Genre: Poetry

Where to buy: It Starts Like This

Summary: “A powerful poetry and prose collection about the journey through love, loss, healing, and hope.” (Source: Goodreads)

Content Warnings: mention of bleeding, threat, injury, descriptive use of a dagger and sword, blood imagery, addiction, self-harm imagery.

What I loved

It Starts Like This is an incredibly relatable read; I absorbed Shelby Leigh’s heartfelt words in one sitting! I was stunned by her poetry and their ability to move me to tears. Leigh’s poetry is sensory, I was enveloped in the worlds that the poems created. Moreover, Leigh’s poems impact you out of the blue, whether it takes one reading or a couple of readings of one poem.

My favourite theme of Leigh’s collection was the untold stories behind the ink. The lines that impacted me the most were the ones that contain implications of stories.

“I think you accidentally

stole my heart

keep it

you’ll probably

treat it better

than I do anyway”

– The Thief, p.5

The Thief caught me off guard. The first stanza starts off unusual, the use of “accidentally” suggests that the speaker has unaware of their heart being “stolen”, but if we take this literally, surely you would know – right? Metaphorically, the line has a different meaning. It implies that “the thief” perhaps didn’t want the heart, that it happened by mistake. Perhaps the person originally had ominous intentions, but later regretted it. The line isolation of “keep it” further adds that the “thief” had potentially tried to return it to its owner. Then, the final stanza is where the speaker suggests that their heart is in better hands, which says so much. The poem ultimately articulates how we are able to care and/or love other people, but not ourselves.

I also feel the need to share some of Leigh’s poetry which moved me the most. Here are a few:

I swear

with every kiss

you leave words on my tongue

and every time you break away

I breathe a poem

into my lungs

Swearing, p.7

I connected to this poem instantly, especially the final line as poetry is truly oxygen for me.

why are you living in your scars

when you have the power

to watch them heal before your eyes

Seawater, p.57

This stanza from Leigh’s Seawater caused me to gasp. I love this affirmation, it really speaks to me.

What I wasn’t sure about

A few lines from Leigh’s poem, Battle Scars, took a few re-readings to understand.

I can trace the scars on your thighs

with our legs intertwined

a mark of triumph not of failure

a memory of a war you fought with yourself

and won

Battle Scars, p.4

The line “a mark of triumph not of failure” doesn’t completely sit right with me, but after further reflection, I realise its meaning. However, it could still be misconstrued as self-harm is still harm.

Why did I read it?

I love poetry and I want to support indie authors.

Does the poet have other works?

Sadly not! But, I’m hoping Shelby Leigh is working on something!


If you enjoy emotive, cathartic poetry, then this is for you.

– Melissa Jennings

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