CUTBANK REVIEWS: LENA, by Cassie Pruyn

From Body to Body:
Mapping Grief in Cassie Pruyn’s Lena

by Molly Gray

What happened?
If I knew I’d tell you.
Lena died.
What happened?
Lena Cover.jpg

Cassie Pruyn’s poetic debut, Lena, is a probing elegy for a former lover. It pays tribute to the eponymous Lena, to her salt, her air, her New England damp; it explores the absence that binds and thrives, even in the wake of Lena’s death. Lena leaves us to wonder what lasts in loss. Pruyn’s poems are tender and tangible; they go the distance from then to now, from one body of water to another body to another body of water.

Pruyn’s attention to Lena is exquisite and stark—in one moment, she uncurls for us “like a pinkish fist”—in another, her cancer: “black— / —bloom.” And in another, her liver: “a fattening gnarl.” Pruyn invites us to “take comfort in this over-growth,” this explosion of cells, fungi, and grief. She examines the spaces she leaves and the places she goes, all of which inevitably echo Lena: in “New Orleans,” for example, “In a whorl of revving dampish breath / I catch wind of her impending death.” Without closure or reconciliation, this ode—to young love, to mistakes, to sex and danger and patience—is also an interrogation. How do we forgive the mother “with a mermaid’s name,” who makes an enemy out of queer love? How do we grieve without an opportunity for closure? Intimate, mournful, a little witchy, but never trite—Pruyn’s poems linger long after you’ve finished this collection.


About Cassie Pruyn:
A former contributor to CutBank (three of her poems are featured in our 2016 “All Accounts and Mixture: A Celebration of LGBTQ Writers and Artists”), Cassie Pruyn is Advanced Seminar Professor and Head of the Creative Writing Center at Bard Early College in New Orleans and author of Bayou St. John: A Brief History, which will be released on November 27th, 2017. Lena is the winner of the 2017 Walt McDonald First-Book Prize in Poetry from Texas Tech University Press. It’s available for purchase here and here. You can learn more about Pruyn and her work at cassiepruyn.com. 

About Molly Gray:
Molly is a first-year candidate for an MFA in poetry at the University of Montana, where she is also an instructor of writing. She reads and reviews recently published collections of poetry and prose as the Reviews Editor of CutBank literary magazine. She lives in Missoula, Montana, and is acclimating to the cold. 



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