Healing Through Rage

Avery Lake’s Horrible Dance

By Emma Telaro

A review of Horrible Dance by Avery Lake

Published on July 4, 2022

In her first book of poems, Avery Lake writes with language that cuts like a knife. In three acts, Lake moves between past, present, and future with vivid precision and productive ambivalence, as in the first and last lines of “Family/History”: “You’re not dead if I remember you hurting me” and “It’d be nice to shake for a reason that’s not/my body remembering things I forgot.” 

Horrible Dance
Avery Lake

Brick Books
$21.95
paper
72pp
9781771315753

Lake addresses catastrophe, moving with ease from difficult meditations on abuse to irreverent wit. This ambivalence is decisive, expressive of the harrowing complexity of trauma – the hurt and rage – and resists a unilateral survivor/victim narrative. Lake paints an honest personal and political response to gender-based violence, trauma, shame, transition, and recovery, while engaging with questions of transfeminist thought. 

Central to Lake’s complex portrait of violence is memory. A few poems appear “as scores for two overlapping voices, with faded underlying text,” a technique she credits to Robert Bringhurst’s The Blue Lake. As in “Color Study: Crying@Work” where she compares “slipping into memory like a tar pit” and asserts, “what happened isn’t over.” In these palimpsestic poems, Lake demonstrates a skill for poetic form, where memory need not be linear nor resolute, but shapely. These poems are brilliant.

Likewise, “Grief Sestina” is particularly moving. In this poem, Lake writes gently about “Loss after loss/ after loss after loss,” how,  

When you wither in loss, you’re
a plant over-showered for years –
roots gasping, lungs burning. You leak memory, you lose leaves.

If Act 3 begins with a “Pop Quiz” – a playful deconstruction of the question “what is healing?” – it ends with “Good Advice from an Undiscovered Atom.” Here, the question of healing through rage culminates: “Find people you love/ and try to collide with them” and “Make sure if people try to break you open/ to explode with violent force.” Horrible Dance is a terrific poetic debut.mRb

Emma Telaro is a writer and reader living in Montreal. She is the Associate Director of AELAQ.

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