Book Review

Despite our socially conscious effort to illuminate the exploitative nature of the diamond trade in economically underdeveloped countries, diamonds, as a symbol and a commodity, are not something that we as a society can easily ignore, much less diminish. Ideas of luxury, status, and celebratory occasions immediately come to mind when one thinks of diamonds, and we have perhaps all, at some point in our lives, used a phrase like “Diamond in the rough” or “Diamonds are forever.” For all we know, diamonds and the ideas associated with diamonds will live in our language until time ceases altogether. What doesn’t last forever, however, are the days that we have on this earth, and given the growing uncertainty we are surrounded by daily, the need to make and see ourselves as the finest quality and cut becomes imperative. Camille Guthrie’s Diamonds brings forth a speaker who confronts such feelings, and in the midst of middle age, divorce, and the search for reassurance of importance, we find a life that seeks to shrug off surmounting struggles and shine.

Mainly void of periods and scattered with the occasional comma, Diamonds understands how the individual line can drive both lyricism and narrative. In the title poem, we see each line building up the speaker’s anxiety surrounding her recent divorce and the struggle to check all the buckets of a suburban mother:

We need diamonds to afford my house
now that I’m a single mom
conflict-free ones for a conflict-free life
To perform a single mom’s gender
is to need a chest of gold coins
and my life is easy I am not hungry
not beaten up working three jobs taking night classes
not ill without insurance I have a good job
I’m already leveled up! Got all my privileges
I’m not floating on a raft to escape war
not having sex with soldiers for food
my children are not digging for diamonds
we’re not being exploited in any way

Starting with financial uncertainty and the need to perform a gender role, then continuing with the sober reminder that the speaker and her family live with an abundance of privileges, Guthrie’s lines pack one emotional punch after the other, never sugarcoating the reality the speaker faces. She sees her situation exactly for what it is: a life that on the surface appears to have the makings of perfection (or at least something near perfection), but that below is swelling with anxiety, fear, and a newfound vulnerability about one’s place within their social circle and the world.

While there is much contemplation throughout the poem, toward the end we see the speaker confess her basic wants:

What I want is someone, not a husband
to perform the male gender around my house
I need help stacking wood putting the garden to bed
for the winter I need a man in my bed
It goes way below zero in the winter round here
The garage door is broken I don’t know how to fix it

It’s not that the speaker cannot stack the wood herself, or keep herself warm, or learn how to fix the garage door, it’s that she wants someone who she can build a relationship with, to do the small things that one part of a pair does. This longing for connection is evident elsewhere, and we see what the speaker is willing to sacrifice if not for love, then for at least intimacy:

I am giving up poetry for kissing you, I meant it
When your body nears mine, metaphors are tedious nitpickers
Similes as useless to me as an IUD from the seventies
I don’t want representation I want to make out in parking lots

Perhaps the speaker in “I Am Giving Up Poetry” might be younger here, but desire doesn’t have an age restriction. There are feelings that defy any particular one category, as should always be the case, and the sooner that the speaker can find love (and as it the challenge with any partnership, keep it), then the less regret that she will have in the future. The task in this poem is seemingly simple (give up what you must for love), but reality—that ancient wet blanket—has a tendency to set in at some point or the other, and in “My Net Worth,” we see a speaker that has sacrificed so much only to be left with what appears to be so little:

Two novels I haven’t finished writing
Three strawberries in the garden that survived the chipmunks
Seven single earrings
An overgrown hydrangea outside the kitchen window
A bill for pink platform sandals
Six locally crafted beer bottles to recycle
One groundbreaking ode in the works
Longings for endowed and generous lovers with lots of time
Too much mint rapaciously growing
Plenty of prescriptions for the Pill, tick antibiotics, Xanax
Twenty-two years of teaching
Three vibrators, my favorite one’s dying

Material things can never be the sole indication of one’s worth, but the speaker, like all of us, can’t help but define themselves in relation to the things that they own, or rather all that remains after a divorce and the uncertainty that ensues. And how could she not? How can she, after separating from a partner she’s been with for so long, not feel as though she is merely the sum of what she has accumulated, despite how fragmentary those things may seem? She has nothing but a “battered unrealistically hopeful heart,” and for some, after the embers of divorce have died out, that is all that remains.

While there are always tones of seriousness (as well as of tragedy), what should never be overlooked throughout the collection is Guthrie’s humor, which we should not think of as an attempt to mask the themes she tackles, but rather as an attempt to envelop them in the totality of human emotions. Couple this with Guthrie’s affinity for the historical (and the historically obscure), we are graced with something like the dating profile of the Dutch/Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch:

What people often say about me: I ride goldfinches with a
gleaming tear on my head for a helmet. They say I nap face-down
in public parks purely to entice deer to sniff my freckled bare back.
Both true. It’s said that I dated a lugubrious lady and together
we floated in a gutted peach with our pets (her heron and my
butterfly) showing off our houseplants until my leg protruded
rudely from one side and sank us—also correct. People also say I
frequent the ape cave deep in a diseased blackberry for s’mores, but
it’s a lie.

Little is known about Bosch, and what remains of his paintings (at least those that are attributed to him with certainty) number in the twenties. In theory, the excerpt above (as well as the entire poem) could also be the dating profile of Salvador Dalí or Leonora Carrington or whatever artist whose work contains surreal, fantastical, and disturbing images and themes. Regardless, while the profile is specific to Bosch, Guthrie’s inclusion here hints at both the ridiculousness of modern dating profiles, while highlighting the need for people to present themselves honestly, to be upfront about who they are, and to be ready to give themselves fully to whatever journey lies ahead.

If the last two years have given us anything, it has no doubt been time and space for reflection. For some, this has led to forging new paths for themselves and leaving behind old ways of living. But for others, it has solidified the values, needs, and desires that they have always held true. Diamonds reminds us that we may hold this latter sentiment while still having to venture into territories not yet explored, and regardless of where we end up, if we are anything like the speaker, we know we will always want “what could be more beautiful.”

About the Reviewer

Esteban Rodríguez is the author of the poetry collections Dusk & Dust, Crash Course, In Bloom, (Dis)placement, and The Valley. His poetry has appeared in Boulevard, Shenandoah, The Rumpus, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere. He is the Interviews Editor for the EcoTheo Review, an assistant poetry editor for AGNI, and a regular reviews contributor for [PANK] and Heavy Feather Review. He lives in Austin, Texas.