This week’s featured poem is “Blood” by Holly Pester.
to keep a secret
My mother instructed the villagers to maintain confidentiality.
She was willing to sacrifice her life for a blood at the nearby art school.
notifications and comments regarding my velvet cake in the shape of a house.
Throughout the day, I received numerous notifications and comments about my house-shaped velvet cake.
Progressively larger items were gradually hidden and eventually sorted.
houses with real blood.
The students created life-sized houses made of real blood, as part of their art project.
largest and most ambitious. It was too large for my camera.
She has the ability to fake tears on command, particularly when my camera is focused on her.
The newspaper in the area inquired about her level of astonishment.
This situation is more severe than when she had multiple mistreated ponies.
unsettling it was.
She whispered to me, expressing how incredibly eerie and disturbing it was.
It was a creative endeavor for the villagers to accomplish this. The following day
Her nervous companion rowed her out to sea as she reclined on a raft.
Holly Pester employs a theatrical metaphor in the title of her debut collection, Comic Timing, and divides it into four “Acts”. Whether composing a short poem or a longer narrative, Pester presents the process of transforming the self and its experiences into poetry as a form of dramatization. This requires a delicate balancing act, as the poems are intentionally crafted but do not come across as forced. Pester skillfully utilizes elements of romantic confessionalism, while also acknowledging the performative nature of personal expression within a larger political context. It is noteworthy that this critical perspective is combined with the enjoyable artistry of a stand-up comedian, as suggested by the collection’s title.
In another poem related to Blood, Pester explores the idea of a false mother figure through the discovery of staged pictures. These pictures reveal that the speaker’s supposed true mother is actually a fake, and instead it is the drunk woman banging on the wall who is the real mother. Pester uses a combination of comedy and surrealism to describe the training of women for “inauthentic motherhood”. This involves baby alligators being dipped in pasta sauce and taped around the necks of trainee girls to condition them for caretaking duties. Despite the humorous approach, the poem still carries a powerful message through the alligator’s “snap”.
The theme of realism is more prominent in Blood, as the mother’s surroundings are realistically portrayed and her desires are somewhat grounded in reality when shared with her peers in the village and art school. However, it becomes evident that both the narrator and main character are playing a game of creating images and possibly fabricating an authenticity in order to navigate their relationship with the Mother-Daughter social norm.
Those unfamiliar with the existence of Red or Blood Velvet Cake (see recipe here) may have an advantage when reading this poem. The title, “Blood”, has various connotations including a feminist and gothic theme that portrays the reclamation of the body and menstrual cycle. The word “blood” can also symbolize a family connection. However, when paired with “cake”, ideas of cannibalism may come to mind. (Spoiler alert: For those interested in culinary details, the “blood” in the recipe is a mixture of melted white chocolate and cream with red food coloring and a drop of black for a deeper, more Halloween-inspired color.)
The Mother’s request for the blood cake to be in the shape of a house may seem reasonable, but the added requirement for it to also be the size of a house creates complications. The Mother wants the cake to symbolize something larger than what it physically can. The speaker in the poem appears to be organizing the offerings on her phone, but attempts to conceal them, possibly from herself. The largest cake, created by the art students, cannot be captured in her “camera scope”. The Mother suggests that she can simply fake cry. All of the characters, including the imaginative art students and the daughter who plays a role in the story, are focused on societal expectations.
The public is also witnessing the unfolding drama. A pointed statement, “The local paper asked how amazed she was,” highlights the transformation of journalism from seeking truth to promoting the subject’s expected emotions. The mother’s effort to connect with her genuine or more genuine reaction must be done secretly with her child: “She leaned in and quietly remarked on how incredibly eerie and artistic it was for the villagers to behave this way.”
Previously, the mother wanted to obtain “abused ponies” and has a past of role-playing, which has now become overwhelming. She has invested a lot in creating a “blood/velvet cake shaped like a house”. This is a result of her desire for self-expression and the need to fulfill expectations by showing generosity and care. However, her desire for extreme gifts and the understanding that her actions can be both “creepy” and “artistic” indicate a possible rebellion. Similar to how a poet uses their art to discover their true self, the mother uses a quirky and attention-grabbing persona to explore a more challenging aspect of herself. By involving both “villagers” and “art students” in her gift and role, she has demonstrated a strong understanding of social possibilities.
Using her natural talent for humor, Pester leaves us with a powerful image of the immense potential that lies ahead. The mother is fortunate to have a worried friend who provides her with a safety net. In addition to her child, she also has a friend who recognizes – or at least seems to recognize – the consequences of her self-deception, risk-taking, and moments of realization. Whether she is headed towards peaceful isolation or complete oblivion, she is finally given permission to exit the stage, “rowed out to sea”.
Holly Pester’s poem, “Comic Timing,” was a finalist for the 2019 Forward prize in the category of best single poem. In this piece, she discusses her approach to writing.