Jan/Feb 2023  •   Reviews & Interviews

We Are Changed to Deer at the Broken Place

Review by Courtney Ludwick

We Are Changed to Deer at the Broken Place.
Kelly Weber.
Tupelo Press. 2022. 86 pp.
ISBN 978 1 946482 80 8.

"Truth is the real genesis story wasn't a rib but a person who saw all the other animals exhausted from trying to survive all day and said yeah, me too, and broke off pieces of her bones to give to them so at least they could all share in it," says the speaker of Kelly Weber's debut poetry collection, We Are Changed to Deer at the Broken Place. Told in five parts, it might be said the collection is a genesis itself. Interrogating queer nonbinary experience, Weber considers what is inherited—stories, bodies, expectations—and, in the process of rupturing such inheritances, creates a new story about asexual and aromantic identity that feels both individual and collective.

How do we shape ourselves in a world already shaped by cishet traditions? How do we eschew inheritances when they seem inescapable, and often accompany the body we're born with? How do we fall into ourselves when we don't fall into binary categories? In one of my favorite poems in the collection, "Aubade with Aroace Girl," the speaker asks...

                   am I not muscle  trying to
hold every minute open  isn't sky our first attempt to reach  a body that isn't
ours to hold

As Weber considers the body's role in shaping (and breaking with typical notions of) lived experience, so, too, do they consider form's role in generative disruption. I've often asked myself what role queerness plays in my own writing, in forms seemingly bound to binary constraints I don't see myself in. Weber's collection, with its simultaneous use and rupture of form, provides an answer. The sonnet, the elegy—this reader is most drawn to Weber's take on the prose poem. Ironic, considering how the prose poem falls outside of typical categorization itself.

"What the Water Bruises Into" is the first (prose) poem in the collection, and the piece cleverly alludes to masturbation as a means to reflect on finding pleasure in the self outside of solely sexual contexts. Such a move also allows the reader to enter into the collection—into the conundrum of finding oneself in a binary world—the way the speaker sees it. The line "if you're like me and reaching for mothers inside the wind" seems to suggest since we do live in predominantly cishet and binary traditions, then we paradoxically must live in these traditions while breaking from them, too.

The idea of reshaping is similarly witnessed in the mythos Weber stitches in. "Actaeon" tells a version of the Actaeon and Artemis story exploring how the ever-present male gaze might be shifted. In a note from a publication in The Missouri Review, Weber states how "...in the poem, I wanted to make it clear that Actaeon is not so much one person as much as the internalized patriarchy we all carry in some way." And, in this poem and others, Weber masterfully works through and out of socially and culturally embedded norms, rewriting old stories and working to create new ones. In the same note, Weber continues: "My sense of Actaeon's entitlement to my body—my desire for his attention and validation, even as an aroace woman—is something I have to continually work to undo."

Such an undoing is constantly present throughout the collection. In the case of the italicized phrases Weber uses in poems like "Recitative" and "Conversion with Petrichor and This Clitoris," language idiosyncratic of catcalling and sexist accusation is taken out of negative contexts and integrated into a new story of lived queer nonbinary experience. Unfortunately, phrases like "sweet baby how're you so / perfect, weren't you made for me, where're you headed, do you live / alone, how do you know what you want if you haven't had a real man yet?" are not fictive renderings of requests made of female bodies. I've been on the receiving end of these questions. You, your friends, your family members, have been bombarded with this language on the street or in a DM. And yet, Weber is able to reshape such language, re-envision the body, restructure poetic forms, and answer inherited violence and tradition with shattering intimacy and urgency.


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