Book Review

Franklin reminds us that Tragedy may be the most appropriate response to tragedy in this fierce and accomplished work.

Living with past trauma enlightens the present day at every turn, showing itself in small things. We contain tragedy, give tragedy a different voice, bounce tragedy off our environs and our reading lists, and still, there is tragedy. Jennifer Franklin transforms all of these coping mechanisms into a book of poetry that braids three poetic forms with confidence: poems titled “As Antigone” in the voice of the Greek tragic heroine, prose poems titled by month, and sonnets titled “Memento Mori:” from the Latin—a caution from antiquity to “remember death.”

Through her narrator Franklin reveals a key moment in her life, one that speaks to the present with urgency. What is it like to continue a pregnancy when you do not want to? What is the effect of a singular trauma as it ripples through a larger lived life?

This shocking personal experience is a timely parallel for women in the post-Roe era: a collision of forced birth, motherly love, and the impossibility of defeating death. She is a modern tragic heroine, true to her beliefs until the end.

Franklin begins this heroine’s journey “As Antigone” in couplets and triplets, and continues using this ancient Greek voice and form throughout the book. Influenced by Anne Carson’s work in translation, Franklin reminds us that sometimes the only way to fight tragedy is with Tragedy. As Antigone, doomed as all of us are, she recounts Antigone’s long hours at the tomb where she has buried her brother against Creon’s orders:

After I held dirt in my curved

palms, I couldn’t return home

to the yellow sheets or eyelet

canopy. It didn’t happen how

they described it – doing the deed

that doomed me to death.

It wasn’t fast – over before

I could stop myself. It was deliberate.

Franklin, like Antigone, like all of us, cannot go back to how things were before.

The sonnet “Memento Mori: Bird Head,” arrives in her present tense. February morning in a Manhattan high rise apartment, the narrator discovers a bird’s head on the window sill:

As soon as I roll a newspaper and push the head off a ledge

to the stubby shrubs below, I regret it.

Here she tries to push death away, but cannot unsee what has visited her that day.

The final form at work are documentary prose poems titled by month, which elucidate a precise image or memory and contain a prescient quote by such figures as Samuel Becket, George Orwell and Louise Bourgeois. In “May” Franklin’s narrator reveals in just a few sentences the shocking turn her life took:

. . . On paper, I always had the right to choose, Pregnant at 26, in the hospital with hyperemesis (the same condition that killed Charlotte Bronte) an IV drip protruded from my right arm. As doctors tried to stop my vomiting and weight loss, my mother and my husband talked me out of the abortion. Fear was their shared weapon– he threatened me. She predicted he would stop loving me. I had the baby; he stopped loving me anyway.

She then quotes Margaret Atwood in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, “Once you take your first breath, it’s out the window with you” recalling the bird head of the earlier poem. The narrator’s daughter, an adult now, is profoundly disabled, “a life-long toddler.” Her former husband has cruelly abandoned them. “I love her, so he still controls me.”

“As Antigone” again: “I consider my mother. Until she died, / I couldn’t admit she had flaws.” Franklin weaves the Greek tale with that of her own memories of her parents:

Everything she liked I had to like

She dragged me to antique shows

bought me old dolls in blue boxes.

 Sounds so familiar to those of us in recovery from life with a controlling mother. Mother serves as a metaphor as well, of the old ways being pushed on us by those in control of our bodies now.

As if all the regular burdens of life were not enough—caring for a disabled adult child, moving from one apartment to another, the COVID quarantine, and the appointment to the Supreme Court of the woman who would be the deciding factor in overturning Roe v. Wade—Franklin endures a cancer diagnosis. Her mother, and the psychological difficulty therein, visits to offer her care again:

When she returns to her garden, it fills her with sorrow…

She might/never coax it back from this ruined form.

The garden, like the daughter, cannot be rescued from fate’s uncertainties.

The brush with cancer may have been the final push for this writer to speak all of the vision: from memory to present, to tragic Greek voices to looking to artists’ words for comfort or inspiration, in the face of this deadly disease. The book’s poetic style of everyday narrative language fits. It is as if the message is too urgent to engage in wordplay.  From “Memento Mori: Preparing to Move”:

You don’t understand that when I lay in a machine for seven weeks,

as oncologists irradiated my sliced tongue and slashed neck,

I learned to walk out of my home and close the door

As if I were not coming back.

Images and tales of visits to museums across the world, walks with the dog, and new love, are made brighter and more beautiful by the surrounding difficulties:

I never know I’m an animal more

than when I shell pistachios in the kitchen,

after washing dishes, waiting for you to come


As a reader, I felt as exposed as the woman in the Man Ray photo on the cover—her entire neck bare, following the line of the jugular, only fine and grainy skin protecting the temporary pulsing force of life. Many of the poems’ interesting factual explorations are credited and further explained in the notes, such as a New York Times article about the last two white rhinos on earth. The book’s title takes its words from Carson’s translation of Antigone:

Blessed be they whose lives do not taste of evil

but if some god shakes your house

 ruin arrives

 ruin does not leave.

Yes, life will carry us forward, even as it kills us.

About the Reviewer

Karin Falcone Krieger’s recent writing and visual art have recently been published in The Decadent Review, Tofu Ink, Hunger Mountain, Grande Dame, Viewless Wings, Tupelo Quarterly, The Literary Review, and in the anthology, A physical book which compiles conceptual books (Partial Press, 2022). She taught writing as an adjunct instructor for 20 years, and was an adjunct union representative. She earned an MFA is from The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa, and published the zine artICHOKE from 1989-2008. She occasionally types poems in public space on a 100 year old typewriter. Links to these and other projects can be seen at