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Jill Bialosky follows her acclaimed debut collection, The End of Desire, with this powerful sequence of poems that probes the subterranean depths of eros. Gerald Stern has called Bialosky “the poet of the secret garden, the place, at once, of grace and sadness,” and here she enters that garden again, blending the classical with the contemporary in bold considerations of desire, fertility, virginity, and childbirth. Written against the idealizations of romantic love and motherhood, she tells of the loss of one child and the birth of another, the fierce passions of life before children, the seductions of suicide, and the comforts of art. Throughout, she braids and unbraids the distinct yet often inseparable themes of motherhood, love, and sexuality. “When he comes to me,” she writes,
in his hand, wanting
me to touch him, I hear
you stir in your crib. I know what your body
The soft skin of a flower, not bruised, not yet
in torment . . .
Subterranean is the moving and intimate account of the emergence of a female psyche. Like the figures of Persephone and Demeter, who appear in various forms in these poems, Bialosky finds a strange beauty in grief, and emerges from the realms of temptation with insight and distinction.